A huge renovation and two hip restaurants may lure you to Paris’ Les Halles shopping complex.

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PARIS — Swapping burgers for lobster souffle and rusty welding for a state-of-the-art canopy roof, Paris’ has unveiled a $1 billion revamp of the city’s dilapidated main shopping and transport complex, Les Halles.

Located in the heart of Paris, near sites such as the Louvre and the Pompidou Center, Les Halles has a storied past. It was a gilded food market and shelter the French king would use to impress merchants in the 12th century, and the culinary heart of the city that 19th-century novelist Emile Zola famously called “the belly of Paris.”

But in the ’70s it was demolished and replaced by an underground shopping mall that has often voted among the city’s the biggest eyesores by disgruntled Paris residents.

Today, a giant, green high-tech glass-and-metal undulating “canopy” roof designed by architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti sparkles in the spring sunshine.

And 35 new stores and restaurants hope to restore the site its culinary and cultural prowess, including a posh brasserie by Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse and a literary eatery designed by Philippe Starck with the slogan “Feed Your Mind.”

The new canopy is a stark contrast to its predecessor — a hangout so engrained in youth and urban culture that Les Halles is even cited in French rap songs.


But Ducasse — whose restaurants include London’s Dorchester and Paris’ Plaza Athenee hotels, where dinner can cost $500–$1,000 — says the new brasserie, Champeaux, is not out of touch with its surroundings.

He believes it will be popular with those who frequent Les Halles, since the brasserie prices remain surprisingly affordable. Some have called it “democratic gastronomy.”

“What we do can never be disconnected to the economic reality of where you are. It’s a young and busy place with a big traffic of — I’d say — the working-class chic,” said the chef as he admired his restaurant’s view onto the magnificent 16th-century Saint Eustache church.

A deviled egg will set you back 6 euros ($6.70), a hand-cut steak tartare 20 euros ($22.50) and lobster soufflé a mere 22 euros ($24.80).

“We want any customer to be able to come into Champeaux and … dine, have a drink, nourish himself. You can also spend more! But it’s an important access key,” he added.


Opposite, the high-tech eatery “Za” has more bookish ambitions.

Customers enjoy a drink at the Brasserie Za of French designer Philippe Starck in the new Les Halles shopping mall in April in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Customers enjoy a drink at the Brasserie Za of French designer Philippe Starck in the new Les Halles shopping mall in April in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Designed by Starck, diners come in and order organic delights, with the aid of an iPhone application, that are delivered to the customer on a conveyor belt to the table.

Za’s owners struck a deal with three French publishing houses to print out books while clients dine, thanks to a huge printing press at the side of the cafe.

Any book — maybe Zola’s 1873 novel “The Belly of Paris” or George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” — can be printed off in under 10 minutes, to be collected as the diner leaves the restaurant.

“It was a slightly mad idea we had to create this combination of quick, chic and hipster because we don’t know if it will work yet,” said Za owner Philippe Amzalak, who said that the rise in real estate prices in the surrounding areas might attract clientele with more spending power.

“The areas around have evolved a lot … (but) it’s a mix and a gamble at the same time to see if the upgrade renovation will work,” he added.