There’s nothing quite as delightful as a few delicious hours spent with good company at a French bistro. Here’s how to recreate that feeling at home.

These friendly restaurants, the beating heart of the good life in France, are known for their laid-back atmosphere and simple, well-prepared classic dishes made with good seasonal ingredients. In addition to French culinary favorites such as steak-frites and moules marinères, there is often a plat du jour and/or a two or three-course menu du jour on offer for lunch in the afternoon. Wine can be purchased by the bottle of in carafes (a pichet) of either a liter, a half liter or a quart, and meals are ended with un p’tit café or a digestif such as an Armagnac or a Whiskey.
For a real taste of France at your own table, here are a few tips to create the perfect bistro atmosphere!

  • Set the table with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth (or plain white), and keep the decor simple and rustic. A single flower in a glass vase in the daytime and perhaps a thick candle atop a plain white stand in the evening.

  • Always have two carafes on the table: one with water and the other with a smooth, mellow red wine or crisp white wine, depending on the type of food you are serving. Great choices would be a Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc.

  • In France, bread is a part of every meal. After taking your order, the first thing the waiter will bring you is a carafe of water and a small basket of sliced bread. The bread is not meant to be eaten before your meal (the horror!), but rather with your meal. Though some consider it bad etiquette, it is perfectly normal to use a piece of bread to clean your plate – a real delight if you are eating a dish with a beautiful French sauce! Pretty wicker baskets for bread are inexpensive and can be found at most home shops. To give your basket a special touch, line it with a crisp, white linen napkin. Note that butter is usually not part of the French bread basket served with meals! And if you’re eating out in France, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for more bread!

  • Play some classic French chansons. Anything by Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud or Charles Trénet would be a wonderful choice.

  • When visiting France, be on the lookout for beautiful French cutlery at antique markets. Though old silverware will usually require hefty polishing, it will add French flair to any table and will be a joy to use for a long time to come. And imagine all the amazing French meals that were enjoyed with those very special pieces – a bit of French history right on your table!

  • Why not officially declare Saturday evening ‘Bistro Evening’ for you and your partner? Feed the children early and enjoy a quiet, romantic meal for two! Make the evening last extra long by offering a simple starter and either a dessert or a small cheese platter with some fresh grapes or pears.