Beware Nicholas Flamel--Paris

For me personally it has been a long time, maybe never, that I experienced such brazen condescension and worse from the staff at a Parisian restaurant. My experience at the one star Michelin Nicholas Flamel, touted as the oldest (but certainly not the wisest) restaurant in Paris, was quite possibly the worst restaurant experience I have ever had.

Not only was the food seriously blah (and really expensive for what it was), but the treatment by the waitstaff and sommelier was both xenophobic and misogynistic. My French guest and I were walked through the main dining room with several open tables for two and marched upstairs where the heat was oppressive and the clientele was American. I knew I was not being paranoid when we were both given English menus, not a French word on them (we asked for the French menu).

Further we had great difficulty ordering a bottle of wine in this restaurant. I noticed other tables in this upstairs archipelago were receiving wine pairings, so perhaps the sommelier hadn’t had the unusual task of selling a bottle of wine in a while that wasn’t on his little list (we were not given the wine list to peruse with the menu, but had to ask for it twice before we received it). And before bringing it, the sommelier came to our table to confirm again(!) that we wanted to see the list that my French friend commented had very few older, like before 2020, wines.

Indeed, after we had chosen a wine, the sommelier came back to say that the year listed in the wine list was incorrect, and that that he only had a 2020, not 2017 as had been printed. Glad he at least asked before he poured, and we ordered a different bottle of wine.

Then the sommelier came back to say that bottle was not cold, so it would take 6? 8? minutes to cool, so he had a different bottle in hand that he insisted we try. Well, he insisted my guest try, anyway. I asked for a taste also, and it was clear that neither me, nor my guest, cared for the wine, so he brought (finally) the one we had ordered and stuck it in a wine bucket full of ice. It didn’t take long to cool, but once again, he refused, almost ostentatiously, to pour me a taste until I asked. Come to think of it, this is particularly weird to me since he had give me a taste for the glass of Champagne we had ordered to begin the meal. He did not give my friend to taste. (I commented to my friend at that time that I had never been given a taste of a glass of Champagne before having thought that if it had bubbles, it was going to be potable.) Anyway, all very weird behavior I thought, and just not pleasant.

At the end of the meal, I paid with my card, and the waiter asked if I wanted to add a tip. Again, another experience I have not had in a French restaurant (certainly not in a fine French restaurant) where it is my understanding that service is included. I said I would leave cash on the table (as is my habit) and asked him, as he ran my card, if service was included, and he stated clearly that it was not. When I looked at my receipt, however, it said in print “service compris.” I asked my guest if this did not mean that the service was indeed included, and he said that it was. So I showed the receipt to the waiter and asked if this did not mean that service was included, and he agreed that service is included, but that a tip/pourboire was not. I didn’t say anything to this, but quietly reduced the amount I left on the table.

It was, from beginning to end, a thoroughly unpleasant experience. As we descended to leave, it was clear that none of the tables for two that were waiting for customers could possibly have been used (we had asked when we were marched upstairs if we could sit downstairs and were told we could not as they were full). We saw as we left that there was not a single diner left downstairs when we departed, and one table still set for dinner, though unlikely to have a customer, as it was already late.

I would say “beware,” and would be interested if someone has a different experience (any restaurant can have an off night), but the experiences I had didn’t seem like those of an “off” night, and they certainly left a bad taste in my mouth.

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I think you should post in other social media platform, including Google or Trip Advisor to warn people. I saw they had nearly no bad reviews in Google.

If it was a non-star place, I would tend to blame the server’s bad understanding of English, or maybe s/he was new in catering job, and didn’t understand anything about service compris. This can’t happen in a starred place.

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I would copy your e-mail to te Michelin guide. They welcome good or bad comments for all the restaurants they list and react accordingly. If you do, mention the day of your visit and join a copy of the bill, if you still have it…

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TBH after that treatment I’d have left a couple euro coins and be done with it.

Left on Google, thanks. I will also send to Michelin, if I can figure out where to send that. I do have the receipt, of course. Clearly the guy understood my question. It’s why we were seated in the American section in the first place! We had one waiter who had trouble explaining what we were eating in French! I don’t know where he was from, but I could relate to him. My French is not great, but I do understand it mostly. Can follow a conversation with pretty fine accuracy, unless there are a lot of idioms I just don’t know.

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After a waiter has tried to BS me in this manner, it wouldn’t even be a couple euro coins. It would be zero euro coins and a message to the Guide Michelin. (There is a “contactez-nous” link at the bottom of their restaurant pages.) They just can’t give one star to a restaurant with such practices.

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That’s the kind of experience that requires a “Karen” response.

Send an email to the restaurant with a link to this post. If they come close to deserving their Mich *, they will be horrified.

If you never hear back from them, then at least you have one of the top 5 rude French waiter stories of all time.

So at least there’s that. :wink:

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Oh, for sure. The OP just seemed to be inclined to generosity, so that would’ve been a compromise, perhaps. But absolutely not necessary.

ETA: Plus I never specified the coinage. Maybe a couple 1-cent coins :wink:

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Merci @Carmenere! I will write them tomorrow!

And, @NotDoobieWah, I am laughing again. Merci bien!

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Just saw this! Yes, I would have had to dig for centime coins! Do they even exist anymore, but you are all quite correct. I have a kid in the restaurant business, so I am attuned to how hard it can be, and I do try to lean toward generosity!

P.S. I left a signed version on the Google site. They have my email from my reservation. They gushingly replied to some of the excellent reviews prior to mine, so I know they will read it there. I don’t need to email them. I will let you know if I hear something, but I am not holding my breath!

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I wonder what they will reply. Usually the Google reviews are handled by the restaurant’s marketing team, but I guess they will notify the restaurant. But the Michelin complain will really make them worry.

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Michelin awarded one star to a couple new DC area restos a while back.
since we had to be in the area, opted to give a new star a try.
turns out, it’s a dive bar.
it was so bad I wrote Michelin. got a “nothing” reply from them.
the recent Canada release prompted me to go look - and sure enough the dive bar is still listed/one starred.
so . . . if it makes one feel better, go for it - but I don’t think they pay much attention to input from customers.

With apologies to Ninkat, I’m an outlier on this. Une tempête dans un verre d’eau. I have never dined at Auberge Nicolas Flamel (onzieme warned me it was soulless) and so have no informed opinion about the quality of the food, wine, and service. Nevertheless, I do have some reactions to Ninkat’s complaints.

I have read about other tourists complaining about the English-speaking ghetto in other restaurants i.e. Joséphine Chez Dumonet, Bistrot Paul Bert, etc. Yet, such restaurants and probably Nicolas Flamel have an overwhelmingly foreign clientele. How in the world is Ninkat’s treatment considered zenophobic when it is the same treatment that every other customer received that night. All were seated in the perhaps better ventilated upstairs dining room, no one downstairs. No French diners anywhere.

Taking up @pilgrim’s point in the original thread, I cannot imagine any waiter hustling for anything other than a few euros for a “pourboire”/ tip. And since the OP was with a French friend, I’m surprised that there was confusion over “service”/ a percentage included in the bill and a “pourboire”/ a few euros (never as a percentage of the bill) as a tip. Maybe the waiter contributed to the confusion with poor communications skills. Of course, it is indeed very tarnishing and disappointing behaviour when it happens in a Michelin 1-star.

I tend to always leave a pourboire of a few euros, more if I intend to return in the next few months. If the waiter solicits a pourboire, I just tell him he has just ruined a very good meal and leave nothing and, on my way out, let the maître d’ or hôte know that I was very disappointed to have been hustled for a tip. But I don’t make a fuss about it, just a few terse remarks.

A wine list heavy with young wines at a Michelin 1-star would disturb me more. And probably the Michelin inspectors as well. I’m no wine geek and just glance at the wine list to get an idea of prices, set a price ceiling, and then tell the somm or waiter to bring what best matches the food I have ordered within my budget. But if a I saw a wine list heavy with young wines, I probably wouldn’t order any wine and make do with a bottle of Chateldon mineral water. And I almost always forego the silly ritual of tasting a wine. It’s true value can only be judged when my taste buds react to the food I’m eating. If it doesn’t suit the food, I send it back and tell the waiter/ somm that he maybe needs a refresher course in wine tasting. But we French have a way of saying these things in a not demeaning way.

I see that Auberge Nicolas Flamel is well rated on google. Hundreds of rather rave reviews. I don’t see how one very negative review will be considered very damaging, significant, or representative.

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Oh, then don’t bother complaining, you mere mortal from another continent.
Are you a PR to Auberge Nicolas Flamel? Or did you read Ninkat’s report attentively? When one has had that kind of experience, does one write a complaint or a negative review to be ‘damaging, significant, or representative’? No, these just have to be written because that waiter’s behavior in a one-star Michelin restaurant would be unheard of even in a cheap tourist trap. Additionnally, you interverted the temperature of the first floor and that of the ground floor…

Trying to extract a tip from a customer through deliberately confusing ‘service’ and ‘tip’ is not exactly “a storm in a glass of water”.

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Hm, @ParnParis, I agree with what you have said, if the experience had been one thing in one restaurant, another at a different restaurant. I guess it was the totality of the experience that caused such frustration for me.

With regards to the foreign ghetto in restaurants, I definitely do not understand your point. If the restaurant was putting all black people in a back of the house section, perhaps you would understand the problem differently? I tend to steer clear of restaurants, like the ones you mentioned, for just this reason when I have read that they do this kind of thing (and I appreciate when a poster tells me this information). And I have been encouraged on this site (and others) to report back my experience at a restaurant, so that is what I did.

It is precisely because it was not “every other customer,” but only the American ones that were relegated to the upstairs, that it is a big problem. It feels humiliating, like one is a second class citizen. It makes the meal (that one is paying for) a terrible experience from the get-go, if one is sensitive to such slights, and I am very sensitive to such bad treatment. I am a human being and therefore in a restaurant (everywhere?) deserving of the same respect that you as a man (a white man perhaps? a French man even?) deserves.

If you think that the ritual of wine tasting is “silly,” that’s fine, and you can choose to forego it. However, it is not for you to say that someone else is not deserving of making the same decision for herself. And in this case, we were in the hands of a sommelier who tried to substitute a different wine from the one we had ordered not once, but twice.

Finally, I do not think I made a “fuss” or was “demeaning.” The point of good manners is that one is humane toward others and is not in the habit of making people uncomfortable. The point of manners is definitely not to flay others who don’t have the luxury you have to flout them or those who choose to follow the tradition good manners afford to feel comfortable in a social and public setting.

And although I agree that one negative review in a sea of raves will not make a whole lot of difference, perhaps other Americans, who tend to leave good tips and spend money when they travel, will want to know about what I wrote, so they can steer clear as well. I love Paris, and, as I stated from the get-go, have never had such an experience as the one I had at Nicolas Flamel. And, yes, I could have just let it go without saying anything, but what is the point of Hungry Onion if I had done so? I have never posted anything on Google before, so this was also an unusual thing for me to have done. And I will write to Michelin, and perhaps I will be the only person, also not shameful to me.

Curious, though, at what treatment, would you warn others to beware? You say at the beginning of your post that you have not been to the restaurant, so you have no “informed” opinion on the quality of the food, wine, and service, yet you go on in your post to take serious issue with my definitely informed opinions. Why is this so? Somehow, you took @onzieme’s opinion of the restaurant to heart, but not mine. It seems to me that we had the same opinion of the restaurant, although his/her experience was not quite as disastrous as mine. But certainly not one of the “raves.” Can all those raves be wrong? I stick with @onzieme and say, yes, they can all be wrong.

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:thinking:

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Never thought this place looked that great. Probably for the same reasons as you. This review with the silly waiter supports that opinion.

So many great places in Paris with upbeat, great service, I’m not too worried….

Many things sound better in French. :fr::rofl:

But… I’m going to say, culturally, what comes across as rude or condescending can depends on the culture and region.

What sounds perfectly ok in French to the average French person can come across as condescending or rude when it’s heard by a North American. But of course, some things some North Americans do while visiting France, come across as rude or obnoxious to the French.