Anyone who knows me knows that I am no good at making decisions. Awful in fact – they’re pretty much my kryptonite. So deciding where to eat in Lille was no mean feat – confronted by lovely looking bistro-style restaurants on every street in the old town, I could have eaten in almost every one of them. We eventually chose Au Vieux de la Vielle, situated on the Place aux Oignons, based on its cosy appearance and affordable but interesting menu.
Once inside, the first good sign was that the waitress addressed us with a stream of French. Usually something about our appearance seems to immediately give us away as British wherever we are (or at least have us mistaken for Germans), so the lack of consideration that we might not be local, or at least French, was a bonus – after all, no Frenchman would eat in a bad restaurant, would they? (Despite this, when it eventually transpired that our French was below par we were offered English menus and a friendly English-speaking waiter, who let us try to speak French but was helpful and understanding when we failed. So anyone with a similar problem shouldn’t be put off from visiting the restaurant.) And as it turned out, a huge range of French people were here, from ladies lunching to families, young groups of friends to office workers on a long lunch. Good sign number two, in my book.
So, good sign number three – its quirky feel. The restaurant’s aim, and the reason for it’s name, ‘The Old of the Old’, is to produce nostalgic dishes that feature in the French’s childhood. The building reflects this; it feels as though you could be eating in someone’s (well, a French someone’s) house. Ascending from narrow stairs onto the first floor, you find yourself in a cosy room decorated with tarnished saucepans, old paintings and black and white photos.
It being an old building, there’s not an awful lot of space and – as you can probably tell from the photos – the tables are pretty close to one another. Sometimes this could prove awkward, but there was enough enough chatter and background noise that it was loud enough not to feel like you’re unintentionally eavesdropping on those around you, without being so loud that it was obtrusive on your own meal. Some of this background noise included what sounded like traditional French songs, adding to the nostalgic atmosphere.
So we were already off to a great start before we’d even tried the food. John had vol au vent, chicken in puff pastry and mushroom sauce, which was perfectly creamy and full of flavour. Intrigued, I chose the beef stew in a beer sauce with gingerbread and brown sugar. I thought it could be a bit sweet, but needn’t have been concerned – it was hearty and the gingerbread and brown sugar added a gorgeous richness to the meal. Both dishes were accompanied by a very generous serving of chips (other options were available). John had a beer, while I had the house white, and we were both happy with our choices.
Although we were too full to sample the desserts, they looked amazing. And the after-dinner drinks of tea and coffee were served in fun-looking, old-fashioned tin pots which looked intriguing and also almost tempted me to indulge in one.
Costing about £15 each for a main course and drink, the meal was pretty averagely price, though probably a little cheaper than you’d pay for the same food and quality in the UK. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Lille who isn’t looking to splash out on the town’s more high-end restaurants. Its great atmosphere and even better food made for the perfect meal to warm us up and send us on our way for an afternoon of sightseeing on a brisk, December day.
Read more about Lille here, or visit the restaurant’s website.