"You can't take photos of my customers" he said as I peered into his restaurant in the Marché de la Madeleine. Apparently I was far too visible, whilst his clients seemingly chose his restaurant for the secrecy it offered them. Perhaps he often has celebrities dining on his kebabs, or maybe his restaurant is known as being the perfect venue for managers to take secretaries for lunch.
"You can photograph my restaurant" he added, gesturing towards an empty area of seating. Fortunately, I was far more interested in this than who was or wasn't eating today, so I snapped away. The whole converted market area was of interest to me, but his unit intruiged me the most. The Marché de la Madeleine is not very well-known in Paris, and I had always assumed that it was a disused development until one day I decided to investigate and found the old market area still in existence. It was only on my second or third visit though that I even saw his restaurant, which is tucked away in a corner behind one of the Asian units.
Built some time in the 1930s, the marché can not have had a long life. As was the case with many of the covered markets in Paris, decline came when shopping habits changed, and Parisians found they no longer had time to purchase their produce from these places. Many of these buildings are empty shells now, but the Marché de la Madeleine found itself a new identity, ironically as a provider of fast-food to office workers. The original decoration is still in place, including wonderful tiled floors and columns, and hexagonal skylights that bathe the lunchtime diners in light, and fittingly, most of the units have been taken over by Asian traiteurs. Their signage marries perfectly with the origanal red units on which we can still see the 'fruits' and 'charcuterie' lettering, and the 1930s design adds an oriental grace to what are actually bog-standard chinese takeways.
But then in one corner, you stumble across his slightly incongruous restaurant. Besides the elegant units in chinese red, his unit looks a little like a 1960s London café. Green plastic chairs are lined up alongside wipe clean tables, and a large autumnul mural is splashed across a side wall. Outside of the unit, more chairs and tables are flanked by carpets that seem to have been tacked to the walls. It's scruffy yet unpretentiously welcoming.
I decided to stay for lunch, and I'll be back whenever I feel like being invisible.