I want to tell you about one of my all-time favourite ‘hidden gems’ in Paris: La Felicità, at Station F.
It was introduced to me last year by two of my closest friends (and fellow foodies) and if you are at all acquainted with the adventures of this anglaise, you won’t be vaguely surprised to know that it’s an eatery.
Station F can be found in the 13th arrondissement, out near the National Library of France. I believe the building is a former rail freight depot (thanks, Google) and although I’ve seen it dubbed Europe’s biggest restaurant, I’d be inclined to disagree with that definition, in that, although everything is owned by one group/company, the vibe is much more ‘food hall’ than single restaurant.
The first time I walked into the cavernous space, my jaw dropped. Literally. Not because of the scale of the space, although that’s pretty impressive; rather, because of how that space has been filled. The first things I noticed, in no particular order were:
A collection of humongous, luminous balloons, splashed with colour and suspended from the ceiling.
A bar surrounded on all sides by hundreds upon hundreds of backlit bottles of various spirits and liquors.
Not one, but two full-sized, real-life train wagons. Just sat there, casually, as if this was an entirely ordinary state of affairs in a “restaurant”.
The space between the train wagons is occupied by small, wooden garden tables and chairs, whilst the floor is scattered with persian-style rugs – a cosy, homey touch that contrasts oddly with the concrete they’re covering, and the industrial scale of the space. Meanwhile, garlands of fairy lights are strung overhead in a multicoloured zigzag, and vines and other climbing plants creep up along the sides of the wagons.
Impressive enough already – and that’s just the bit immediately in front of you on walking through the doors. The building is loosely split into various ‘zones’, distinguished by different decor, each with their own food/drink ‘stations’ and seating areas. (Note that you can take your food/drinks to any area after you buy them – not that you’re likely to have too much choice at peak mealtimes on a weekend. It’s often a case of grabbing the first available table you find.)
Over to one side, there’s the aforementioned cocktail bar, rows and rows of bottles glowing appealingly with a warm light that draws new arrivals like moths to a flame. And, in the same area, providing perfect cocktail accompaniments, there’s a small “apéro” station selling generous portions of enormous green olives, hunks of parmesan, deliciously runny burrata mozzarella, or (/and) cured meats sliced wafer-thin in front of you whilst you wait. And baguette, of course there’s baguette. Another “restaurant” station in this section offers a select menu of pasta dishes – on my first visit (obviously there have been several), I ordered pasta à la truffe, which came in a bronze skillet (top marks for presentation) and was bloody lovely. Although the long, elastic-y, tightly-squiggled pasta did slightly resemble unravelled brains. Fortunately, I’m not deterred by that kind of thing. Sorry if you are.
Further back, there’s a gorgeous ‘garden’ area, sheltered by trellises strung with ferns and more climbing plants, numerous potted plants adding to the outdoorsy effect. Seating here mostly comprises of sofa/bench sort of things and spindly wooden chairs, with cushions galore and plenty more persian-style rugs. It’s hard to choose, but I think this is probably my favourite spot to sit at La Felicità – it’s very pretty, and very cosy. The food station here is a little cafe, serving coffee and a mouthwatering selection of cakes and desserts. Did I mention that everything served on the site is made fresh?
Moving around to the opposite side of the space, there’s an area for live music – a regular Saturday night occurrence, I believe, though I’m yet to experience it first-hand – and several more stations, including one serving burgers; a place doing salads (I think), and focaccia-based open sandwiches; and a bar serving craft beers and cocktails on tap. The bar is particularly fun/photo-worthy, with a big light-wall up behind the taps, covered in neon-ish images and words. I’m not doing a very good job of explaining it, so here’s a photo instead:
And the foodie fun isn’t confined to the (far-flung) four walls, either. There have been a few different stations outside each time I’ve visited, including a champagne truck, and some kind of slow-roast meat pit – but the wood-fired pizza oven is a permanent fixture. There’s invariably a big queue, but don’t be daunted: it moves quickly and the pizza is SO worth the (shorter-than-you-expect) wait.
I haven’t shared every detail about La Felicità with you, partly because it’s very hard to do justice to in writing*, and partly because I want to leave you to discover some details for yourself. The toilets are quite an, erm, experience, for example…
So rather than revealing any further spoilers, I’ll leave you with a tip: if you download the app (just search La Felicità), you’ll be able to order and pay for your food or drinks from your table, then you’ll get a notification (and a text) when they’re ready. (Except for the pizza, hence the queue…). You’re welcome.
*No word of a lie, I started this draft over a year ago.