In Toulouse, Justin Postlethwaite falls under the Belle Époque spell of historic brasserie Le Bibent…

All iconic places in France worth their fleur de sel boast an emblematic café or restaurant befitting the classical grandeur and prime central location, and Toulouse’s spectacular, rectangular place du Capitole is a perfect example. Le Bibent is a long-loved, cult establishment located at number 5 on the 126m by 92m place, with a front-row view of the titular Capitole building that houses the Hôtel de Ville and Théâtre du Capitole.
While it has been a fixture and focal point since it opened in 1843, good fortune has come and gone with eras and trends. It boasts history in ample spoonfuls – as a place where, over the decades, everyone from intellectuals to students have chin-stroked, partied hard and eaten heartily. Right up until the 1970s, local artists and brainboxes gathered every Thursday for Les Jeudis du Bibent, doubtless enjoying a pression (draught beer) or three at the bar – Le Bibent was an early adopter of the fizzed-up beer way back in 1861.

In 1887, you may have spotted Jean Jaurès on the terrace the city councillor and deputy mayor wrote his first articles for local paper La Dépêche here and went on to become a notable pacifist politician and, after his death, an omnipresent street sign. In the mother of all ironies, it is also claimed in restaurant archives that on the same terrace in early 1914, three young Serbian students, enrolled in the city’s Faculty of Letters and affiliated to secret military society Black Hand, met to discuss the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, and we know where that led….

A glittering delight

Step inside Le Bibent and one’s gaze is drawn upwards by the striking stucco, friezes and gilded mirrors. It’s the view that the Belle Époque clientele would have enjoyed over 100 years ago, but it was not always thus. In 1979, it was out with the old as the painted wood was stripped bare – although the interior structures had been protected since 1975 under a Monuments historiques guarantee. Only in 2011 was painstaking, and expensive, artisan work done to reinstate the Napoleon III-style painted stucco decoration we enjoy today, thanks to an ambitious new owner keen to restore some of Le Bibent’s former golden glories.

He also drafted in superstar chef and Occitanie native Christian Constant to work his Michelin magic in the kitchen, and ever since, the place has worn its legendary status with elegant aplomb.

But what of the eating and drinking experience? The first thing to know is that there is no need to hurry – Le Bibent is open from 8am to 2am, encompassing all of Toulousain life: first are the coffee and croissant customers on their way to work or fuelling up before sightseeing and shopping (visit on a Wednesday when the Capitole’s market is on); then comes the lunch service think classic, simple dishes such as the entrées, oeufs mimosa (€12) or Roscoff onion gratin soup (€14), followed by roast guinea fowl (€32) or cassoulet (€29). For dessert (€12) you must try Le Bibent’s famed vanilla millefeuille with salted caramel sauce it is divine. Or else pick from other brasserie stalwarts such as lemon meringue tartlet or baba au rhum. There is also a €29 set menu at lunchtimes, with menus changing three times a year. Wines are served by the glass at very reasonable prices (AOP Cahors red, €7, and an AOP Chablis, €8, for example).

The superb menu is now under the creative culinary direction of chef Yann Ghazal, after Constant took retirement in 2020 at the age of 70. Bistronomy, the name attributed to Le Bibent’s particular culinary style, broadly means classic dishes with a snazzy upgrade or inventive flourish – in short, polished brasserie yumminess.

There are 60 employees in total at Le Bibent, so all your drinking and dining needs are met with class, courtesy and efficiency – be that morning, noon or night. And long may they continue to uphold Le Bibent’s status as a Toulousain, and indeed national, treasure.

Le Bibent, 5 Pl. du Capitole, 31000, Toulouse


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