Passing through Toulouse has become a habit, as it is the closest major airport to our house in Orthez. For this reason, magnificent main dining room at Bibent on the Place des Capitouls has become our go-to first meal in France. After 16 hours in transit (more or less), its reliably plush banquettes, attentive service and simple but well done menu gr, filled with grand classics of the cuisine bourgeois, seem like a the perfect way to decompress.
Bibent has a storied history that began in the early 1900s. Ideally located in Toulouse’s central square, Bibent was designed to be the most luxurious address in town. Its Art Nouveau moldings and hand painted frescoes endured for years but were finally painted over in gold to avoid expensive upkeep as the mode for Grand Brasseries faded after the wars. It was the Grand Crise of 2008 that finally closed its to doors after more than 100 years in operation. Fortunately for Toulouse, Christian Constant, one of its native sons who had made it big with three restaurants in Paris, decided to reopen the space after a meticulous restoration. Constant, who is often cited as the father of the Nouveau Bistrot movement in the 1990s in Paris because he trained a number of its adherents while he was the chef at the storied Ambassadeurs restaurant at the Hotel Crillon, installed a menu is an ode to top quality ingredients, simply prepared (as much as that sounds like a cliche now, it is still very rewarding when well done). Oeufs a la Meurette, blanquette de veau, hand chopped tartare de bœuf, baba au rhum. You get the idea.
Not far from Bibent is new arrival (or at least a new discovery for me) Barallel. A wine bar featuring mostly organic, biodynamic or natural wines and specializing selections from the area around Toulouse (pretty much requirements for any up and coming wine bar in France these days), it also features 6 handles of beers brewed in its own mini-brasserie, visible through a glass wall at the back of the room. A unique feature for a bar that only has room for 50-ish guest. Friendly people behind the bar, friendly pricing on the list and a selection of cheese and meat plates from local artisans. Not surprising that finding a seat is always a challenge.
Address: 5 Place du Capitole, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 34 30 18 37
Reservations: Recommended at dinner for sure. If you arrive without one, you may be relegated to the downstairs dining room, which is a cosy vaulted cave, but still disappointing when you are expecting to dine in an Art Nouveau palace
Address: 9 Rue Cujas, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 09 82 50 43 58
Reservations: Not accepted.