What an odd, and strangely familiar, sight…
In the centre of UB, across from the National university sits one of the most well known and respected restaurants in Ulaanbaatar. Le Bistrot Francais, or just “the bistrot” as it is more commonly known, is an old UB institution, nearly as old as Mongolian Democracy…
I am myself in Mongolia thanks in greater part to Guy and his restaurant. It seemed such a pleasant life, sitting on his terrace, drinking an espresso and eating a warm pain au chocolat while admiring the local students and enjoying the glorious summer weather. Of course I have since discovered the Mongolian winters which are less pleasant.
Most restaurants in UB seem to come and go; most have a relatively short lifespan, the bistrot is an ageless institution that seems set to stay. Maybe this has something to do with its uniquely French menu, maybe even with its unmistakably French décor or maybe even with its friendly owner, Guy Bourel.
While it seems to me that most restaurants in UB are serving the same staple diet of burgers, pizzas, steaks and spaghetti, the bistrot has a number of exotic dishes such as duck magret, foie gras, snails, frog legs, chateaubriand, cassoulet and iles flottantes.
The bistrot is in many ways, a more real, if less diplomatic embassy for France; it provides the joys of a good meal shared with friends, it is a meeting point for the French expat community as well as for the weary tourists just back from a lengthy adventure in the Mongolian Steppes.
Sadly for the entertainment value of this column, there is little to fault and criticize, it is true that the staff could speak better English or French, most wines on the menu are too expensive and you do hear the occasional “baihgui” but once you’ve received your huge chateaubriand, all is forgiven.
Of course, all good things come at a price, the bistrot is certainly not a cheap restaurant, a meal for two will easily set you back between 50,000 and 100,000 but if you can afford it, the bistrot is one of those rare pleasures of UB life that should be indulged in every so often, if only to remain sane.
Had the bistrot existed at the time of Chinggis Khaan, it is very possible he would have concentrated instead on reaching Paris…