How a French 'workmen's cafe' was awarded a Michelin star

Beef Bourguignon is more of a simple, home-style dish than Michelin-star fare.
Beef Bourguignon is more of a simple, home-style dish than Michelin-star fare.  Photo: William Meppem

A workmen's cafe in central France was overwhelmed with phone calls from gourmet diners wanting to book tables after it was awarded a Michelin star - by mistake.

Reporters, television crews and prospective customers were astounded when they turned up at the Bouche à Oreille, in the small town of Bourges, to find a cheap, cheerful eatery with red -and-white polka-dot plastic tablecloths.

Many patrons wear high-visibility vests at the venue, and it is often packed at lunchtime. The atmosphere is lively, with customers ordering beers at the bar. It serves its regular clientele of local tradesmen plain - if undeniably wholesome - dishes such as homemade lasagne and beef bourguignon.

The Michelin Guide soon phoned up to apologise, explaining that it had confused the cafe with a more refined establishment of the same name near Paris. It was, perhaps, an understandable mistake, as their addresses are remarkably similar. One is on a street named Route de la Chapelle, the other on Impasse de la Chapelle.

Not only did the error bring the cafe publicity that it had never enjoyed before, but it also saw the staff invited for a genuine Michelin-standard dinner at the other Bouche à Oreille, 100 miles away, in Boutervilliers, near Paris.

The tastefully decorated establishment has linen tablecloths and carpets, and offers dishes such as lobster flan and confit of beef with black truffle.

Veronique Jacquet, the cafe owner who works behind the bar, said: "Suddenly we were rushed off our feet. Reporters were coming in and then my son phoned me from Paris, where he lives. He almost died laughing.

"I had regulars and friends phoning up and asking why I hadn't told them we'd won a Michelin star."

Penelope Salmon, Mrs Jacquet's cook, said she had never dreamt of winning a Michelin star, but added: "I put my heart into my cooking. It's not star cooking, it's traditional and convivial."

"This place is worth not just one but two stars," a satisfied customer told French television. Another said: "We like it as it is. They shouldn't change a thing, star or no star."

Mrs Jacquet said: "We've had a lot of fun and the publicity might be good, but I'll be relieved when the phone stops ringing.

"The spirit here is that the door's open to everyone. This is good, simple home cooking and that's what our customers like."

The listing was changed on the Michelin website, but not until two days later. Aymeric Dreux, the chef of the pricier restaurant, also took the mistake with good humour.

"I phoned Madame Jacquet in Bourges," he said. "We had a good laugh about it and I invited her to come to the restaurant to sample what we do. If I'm in her neck of the woods, I'll pop in for lunch and a beer at her place."

Bouche à Oreille, Bourges

Fixed-price lunch menu €12.50 ($17.30) including a starter (often charcuterie and salad) and a dish of the day such as beef bourguignon, homemade lasagne, steak and chips. Last week, the chef served up a fillet of pollock with paprika, garnished with mussels and generous helpings of boiled potatoes and lettuce. If you don't want the full menu, a dish of the day will cost no more than €10 ($13.80).

Bouche à Oreille, Boutervilliers

The Michelin-starred venue also offers a fixed-price lunch menu for €48 ($66.42) including a glass of champagne. The menu changes regularly.

Entree: Lobster flan with fricasse of gambas or confit of beef with poached egg, mousseline of Jerusalem artichokes.

Main course: Skate wing in herb crust, salsify or calf's head with glazed winter vegetables.

Desserts: pear and chocolate crisp, tiramisu-style or white chocolate and coconut exotique with mango.

The Daily Telegraph, London.