Bastille Day? My French history is pretty ropey…
It marks the storming of the Bastille prison by angry Parisian crowds in 1789 - a bit like the Champs Elysee after the France-Belgium game last night, just without the tear gas. The act, which triggered the start of the French Revolution, demonstrated that the ordinary French people would no longer accept heavy-handed royal rule and oppression.
Tensions were high in France because of the weak monarchy, rising food prices and high taxes. The people heard that King Louis XVI was planning on raising taxes even further…and the crowds went wild. The Bastille prison was famous for holding political prisoners for years without trial, so it was chosen as the target. Further down the line, the monarchy were all captured and beheaded. It became a national holiday, Fete de la Federation, in 1880.
Will restaurants be letting all their customers eat cake?
Very clever, but the ‘let them eat cake’ phrase attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette upon hearing that the French people were starving was probably never uttered, according to historians.
So what are they doing this side of the Channel?
Jason Atherton’s Little Social (which usually serves British dishes with a nod to the French) is going full Francais for Bastille Day, with executive chef Cary Docherty creating a three-course menu of classic French dishes such as Normandy fish stew; confit duck leg; barigoule; and pear tarte tatin. Le Pont de la Tour is hosting a party at its riverside Tower Bridge restaurant, serving fruits de mer alongside a champagne pyramid to the soundtrack of a Parisian band. And French bistro Blanchette will be cranking out croque monsieurs and crispy frog legs at its Soho restaurant, and baked St Marcellin with honey and truffle at its Brick Lane one.
Covent Garden (or should that be ‘Covent Jardin’?) will be the top location for Francophiles to get their Bastille on, as it is unusually highly populated with French restaurants and shops. The Henrietta Hotel is having its own revolution of sorts, as Ollie Dabbous (who has his hands full at Hide) has been overthrown by The Experimental Group. The Parisian hospitality experts have moved in French chef Sylvain Roucayrol to oversee the food, which will comprise snacks and sharing plates alongside pastis and cocktails. Nearby Frenchie will be serving comte gougeres, which are filled with mornay sauce and paired with a specially created Vendemiare cocktail.
Anything else I should know about the day?
When a bemused King Louis XVI was told of the riots in the streets and asked one of his advisors, “Is this a revolt?” the advisor replied: “No Sire, this is a revolution".