The first commercial eating place called a restaurant opened in Paris in the 1760s. Then, as now, the very name was a promise – restaurant, a restoring or refreshing thing. Of course the name only tells you about one part of the deal offered when you walk in, whether to McDonald’s or Nobu. It’s what you do while restoring that makes restaurant-going so universally popular: the talk, the imbibing, the intrigue, the flirtation, and the adventure. We’re ‘lovin’ it’, as they inform you under the yellow arches, and I dare say we always have. Ever since man first cooked mammoth and sold the steaks, the warm space around the hearth has been a haven for the hungry and the bored; a place to be nourished, entertained and seduced, without having to cook or do the washing up.
According to Robert Appelbaum, by the time of the French Revolution there were a hundred restaurants in Paris. By 1803, ‘the restaurant had become not only a common institution, but a cultural idea … a subject of discourse’. I suspect they were that 2,000 years earlier as well: