Need your fix of French food while in London? Head to one of these French restaurants in London to get a true taste of France
If there is one restaurant that has stood tall and proud against the winds of change that have swept through Soho over the years, it must be L’Escargot. Established in 1927 in a fine Georgian house in Greek Street, the restaurant was famous in its early days for having its own snail farm in the basement. With or without snails living downstairs, the oldest French restaurant in London has been a landmark of Gallic cuisine in the capital. The present owners, Brian Clivaz (of Langan’s Brasserie) and Laurence Isaacson (co-founder of Chez Gérard), took over in 2014 and gave the grande dame a makeover. The main restaurant was fitted out in dark wood, red walls, huge mirrors and chandeliers, while private meeting rooms were created upstairs.
A new chef, Oliver Lešnik, who had worked under Michel Bourdin and Angela Hartnett, created a menu filled with such brasserie classics as cassoulet and coq au vin. The weather was grim as my friend and I entered L’Escargot, flustered and freezing, but we got a warm welcome from the friendly staff. One glance at the menu made me feel hungry and I was comforted by seeing familiar dishes from my home in Burgundy. I started with half a dozen snails– the house speciality, of course –followed by half a lobster, while my friend went for the lobster bisque and confit duck. To accompany the meal we chose a glass of Petit Chablis and a red Sancerre from the extensive wine list before sharing macarons and crème brûlée for dessert. The restaurant is a popular venue for business lunches and evening theatre audiences, and will certainly satisfy anyone with a craving for authentic French cuisine.
Mains from £15
Le Garnier, Earl’s Court
Behind a sumptuous scarlet curtain lies a buzzing restaurant; testament to the reputation of owners Didier and Eric Garnier whose other ventures have included Le Colombier in Chelsea and the Brasserie Racine in Knightsbridge. The brasserie Garnier, located by Earl’s Court, had the authentic atmosphere of an old-fashioned French brasserie. Gold-framed mirrors decorated the walls while diners sat on red banquettes around tables laid with starched white napery.
The menu favoured bistro cooking over haute cuisine; I began with home-smoked salmon, sliced into thick chunks arranged around a generous dollop of crème fraîche topped with lightly pickled cucumber. I adored my main course, an artistic mélange of plump coquilles Saint-Jacques and delicate girolles draped on blanched spinach leaves and creamy cauliflower purée. My companion enjoyed a rich fish soup starter, followed by confit de canard on a bed of coco beans in a zestful herb salsa. We both opted for the intense chocolate fondant oozing with silky dark chocolate. Our meal was complemented by impeccable service from the gracious staff, and we were sad to sip the last drops of our Burgundy pinot noir. I hope to find an excuse to return to Garnier very soon…
Two-course dinner set menu £22
Deliciously drawn-out evening meals are a highlight of Gallic gastronomy, but lunchtimes are a particularly French pleasure too. A ten-minute walk from Paddington railway station, Thierry Thomasin’s restaurant Angelus has an enticing set lunch (two courses for £23, three courses for £28) alongside à la carte offerings. As a party of three, we settled into our seats and admired the art nouveau-style decor, with dark wood and lavish mirrors.
Our à la carte starters of seared scallops with cauliflower purée, confit tomatoes and black pepper sesame seed tuile and warm beetroot, Swiss chard and blue cheese tartlet with walnuts and rocket were full of flavour, matching the set lunch starter of pan-fried fish boudin with new potatoes, leeks and capers. The set lunch main courses – smoked haddock fishcake with spinach, egg and lemon beurre blanc, and beetroot risotto with goat’s cheese, fennel and apple – were fresh and light, as was the à la carte baked fillet of cod and crispy cod cheek with sprouting broccoli, caper berries and spiced piperade. Our shared à la carte desserts of apple and calvados parfait, and a selection of sorbets with spiced poppy seed tuile were a sweet end to a delightfully French lunch.
Mains from £19
Grain Store, King’s Cross
Whenever I’m in France I often wonder why all the wonderful fresh vegetables on sale in the market never manage to make their way into local restaurant dishes, which are, more often than not, meat based. Bruno Loubet, Grain Store chef-owner and champion of the humble vegetable, is determined to buck this trend and show us that vegetables can also be the basis for fine flavours. Carnivores, fear not: the menu includes meat but it’s really in the creative use of tubers, roots, bulbs and buds that Loubet comes into his own. Even my pre-dinner cocktail contained sweet pumpkin puree. The setting is airy and industrial, with kitchen and dining area merging into one energy-filled space. The menu is eclectic, however there are flashes of Loubet’s French heritage throughout, from the Androuet fromagerie cheeses to the Opinel steak knives.
To start we ordered figs and roasted goat’s cheese, and an indulgent truffle risotto that I could have happily eaten all night. My companion enjoyed a dish of sea bream and rich lentil dahl that was bursting with flavours while my wood pigeon kebab with chunks of roasted – almost caramelised – butternut squash and onion confit was a true taste experience. The fresh and lively white Languedoc wine that accompanied our meal suited the ambience perfectly. We both agreed that it’s not so hard to get your ‘five a day’ after all.
Mains from £13
Boulestin, St James’s
A familiar name on the London restaurant scene, Boulestin is located in the posh surroundings of Saint James’s Street. The original was a Covent Garden restaurant opened by food writer Marcel Boulestin in the 1920s. Two years ago, restaurateur Joel Kissin revived the name to serve nostalgic French classics to a new generation. The dining room resembles a French brasserie of yesteryear. Under a high atrium, leather-bound banquettes flank a bold chequerboard floor. Brass light fittings, gilded mirrors and attentive, waist-coated waiters contribute to the old-world elegance. The menu offers quintessential crowd-pleasers.
I began with oeuf en meurette, a poached egg served on bread soaked in a heady red-wine sauce of shallots, lardons and mushrooms, while my companion worked through a mound of creamy moules marinières. My fillet of beef bordelaise was rich in flavour and the meat was cooked to perfection. My guest’s shoulder of lamb, served in a light gravy with haricot beans and vegetables, was less flavoursome but still enjoyable. For dessert, I couldn’t fault my rich and fluffy chocolate mousse while my dinner guest opted for a light and zingy sorbet assortment. We chose from the a la carte menu, but Boulestin also offers cheaper supper and fixed-price theatre menus.
Mains from £16.50
Augustine Kitchen, Battersea
Just south of the River Thames, a stone’s throw from Battersea Park, chef Franck Raymond has set out to transport guests to a bistro in France with a restaurant named after his grandmother. With a menu as traditionally French as it could be, the focus is on produce from the Évian-les-Bains area of Haute-Savoie where Raymond was born.
After nibbling on warm bread and salty butter while perusing the menu, I opted for a creamy cassolette of snails packed with garlic and parsley. My companion opted for a piping hot French onion soup accompanied by crunchy croutons topped with melted Bleu de Termignon cheese.My main course was a roast duck magret with spicy poached pear and a timut pepper sauce, while my companion tucked into a shoulder of lamb confit that was cooked to perfection on a bed of spicy tabbouleh. We were also persuaded to try the chef’s speciality – a dish of creamy dauphinoise potatoes that we demolished between us. Even after cleaning our plates, we still found room for dessert: a tarte tatin and an indulgent dark chocolate mousse. A refreshing white wine from Languedoc-Roussillon complemented the meal perfectly.
Mains from £16.95
Le Colombier, Chelsea
London boasts a plethora of fine restaurants, but it is always particularly appetising to find one that delivers an authentic taste of France. Tucked away in a corner of Chelsea, Le Colombier does just that by offering brassiere classics and lashings of French flair. On a warm evening, my companion and I arrived to find diners seated on the pavement terrace, feasting on tiered platters of fruits de mer. It was encouraging to hear French voices over the clinking of glasses and cracking of shellfish. Inside, waistcoat-clad waiters hurried about the blue-and-cream themed dining room, where the starched table clothes and wooden furnishings provided plenty of character.
My companion started with a warm goat’s cheese salad, while I opted for a delicious crab salad, consisting of a stack of delicate crab meat layered with freshly chopped tomato. For the mains. I opted for grilled langoustine, which was simple but enjoyable. My friend’s wild sea bass, served on a bed of spinach, was well-matched with a zesty lemon dressing. We both chose nostalgic desserts: heady rum baba and smooth crème brûlée, before rounding off with a soothing tisane, sipped slowly to prolong the enjoyable evening.
Mains from £17.50
Le Gavroche, Mayfair
It may seem a grand claim to state that a restaurant will go down in history, but for Le Gavroche, it is an entirely fair statement. The London restaurant opened in 1967 by Michel and Albert Roux and brought high-quality French cuisine to Britain. Its modest entrance – a polished wooden door, with elegant glass portico – leads to the restaurant on the lower ground floor. The welcoming staff-members are effortlessly efficient as they show you to your cosy table.
The menu is a repertoire of classic signature dishes, starters included Portland and soft-shell crab salad and roast scallops with cucumber, avocado and dill, while mains were veal fillet with foie gras and truffle Madeira sauce. The wines meanwhile, were expertly chosen by sommelier David Galetti, who opened my palate to another world, a certain Pouilly Fuissé was like no other wine I’ve ever tasted. The cheese trolley was mesmerising. It was accompanied by a glass of port from the largest bottle of Graham’s Tawny Port I have ever seen. Then came the dessert; the Gavroche is famous for its soufflés, and for us the best was saved for last. An awe-inspiring ‘cloud’ of passion fruit soufflé arrived only to be enhanced – if it were possible – with a spoonful of the sweet and creamy white chocolate ice-cream inserted by the waiter, into the centre. The perfect finale to a sumptuous meal that everyone should try once – or more if they can’t bear to resist – in a lifetime.
Eight-course tasting menu £126
Pont de la Tour, Southwark
There can be few more typically British sights than that of Tower Bridge, but for those admiring it from the Pont de la Tour restaurant, the experience can also have a Gallic flavour. This classic French restaurant originally opened in 1991 but has been given a new lease of life after an extensive refurbishment and the appointment of a new head chef. Frederick Forster has an impressive CV that includes the Roux scholarship, Le Gavroche, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and The Ritz. The restaurant was a welcome port in the gloom when my companion and I visited for lunch on a cold winter’s day.
The menu proved a treat as well, and after much umm-ing and ahh-ing over dishes that bring together the best of British and French (and a touch of Italian), I plumped for the seared foie gras and clementines to start, followed by half a lobster thermidor, while my companion was swayed by the waiter’s suggestions of San Daniele ham and goat’s cheese followed by a loin of venison with poached pear and parmentier. All dishes were delicious, and in classic French style we were left with just enough room for dessert: chocolate crème, caramel and lemon sorbet for me and caramel soufflé for my companion. Each course was accompanied by wines selected by their sommelier from the restaurant’s famous wine cellar. I dared sip non-French wines (with apologies, France-lovers), finding the Monsters riesling from the Some Young Punks vineyard in the Clare Valley, south Australia, a particular highlight. While the restaurant’s location draws a suited and booted clientele from the nearby City and Canary Wharf, we felt for a few hours that we had sailed away to France.
Mains from £16
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