French restaurants in London you really need to try
- Credit: Archant
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
Frenchie, Covent Garden
Located smack-bang in the middle of one of London’s most popular areas for entertainment, shopping and socialising, Frenchie Covent Garden was opened by chef Greg Marchand in early 2016, building on the success of his original 20-seat Paris restaurant on Rue de Nil in the Sentier district. The London restaurant is significantly larger than its Parisian predecessor, seating 78 diners – including an additional ten since its refresh in September 2017 – yet it is still regularly full. I went early on a Thursday evening and the place was already busy, with a buzz of people enjoying an evening of good food and wine. This is where Frenchie has carved its niche. Many French restaurants in the UK follow the familiar – and well-loved – pattern of dark wood, brass, mirrors and classic dishes, but not so Frenchie! Here the surroundings are bright and modern; think trendy wine bar rather than French bistro, with a menu and wines to match.
My husband and I plumped for the five-course tasting menu with paired wines. The starter of sea bream tartare with yuzu, pear and chestnuts revealed delicate flavours in harmony with each other. The next course, a superbly fresh piece of Dorset sea trout with courgettes, red pepper and merguez sausage, was artfully presented and tasted as good as it looked. The Culoiseau farm chicken with salsify, mushrooms, egg yolk and Keen’s cheddar was beautifully cooked and delicious, and the two desserts were both excellent – black figs with honey, and a chocolate, lime and coconut mousse.
The food was excellent, but it was the wine pairing and the sommelier’s advice that elevated the experience. Such was the young woman’s knowledge and enthusiasm, pairing each wine with flair and expertise, that the subtle flavours in each course were unlocked and an extra layer of enjoyment added. The stand-outs were a sparkling wine from Alsace with the starters, an unusual white from Tenerife, and the artisanal liqueur de prunelle with dessert. Paying £100 per person for a meal is a lot of money, but for a special occasion, it is worth the investment in the wine-pairing experience at Frenchie. It was a stylish but relaxed, hip but accessible, fantastic evening out.
Mains from £17, five-course tasting menu £55 (£100 with paired wines)
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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
La Poule au Pot, Edbury Street
There is something about the Belgravia area of London that exudes a faintly intimidating, chic sophistification that mere mortals can only aspire to. La Poule au Pot sits on a small island between streets of estate agents and smart boutiques. It has its own tranquil terrace shaded by trees for sunny days, and a front door bracketed by leafy potted plants. Stepping inside, the restaurant is cosy, welcoming and far from snobby, decorated throughout with wood, vintage china and glass, and the most amazing swathes of wild flowers and herbs, which are refreshed regularly to avoid them becoming dust magnets.
Stymied by the wide choice of classic dishes, my friend and I decided that the table d’hôte menu would suit us just fine. We both selected the moules marinières to start, which were exceptional, as was the fresh bread to mop up the sauce. For my main course, I decided to try the coq au vin, with a side dish of creamed potato, while my friend chose the selle de gigot d’agneau (rump of lamb). Both were rich and hearty, in keeping with the atmosphere of the restaurant, and were washed down with a very quaffable Pays d’Oc Malbec. Dessert was an easy choice, with crème brûlée always featuring at the top of my list. My friend went for the mousse au chocolat, an equally traditional choice. My crème brûlée was sweet and silky, with just the right crispiness on top, a satisfying finish to a delicious (and filling) meal.
La Poule au Pot has been a fixture of London’s dining scene since the 1960s and is frequently mentioned in local guides as being one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. The ambience was certainly intimate, friendly, unhurried and a delight for a relaxed lunch with a friend, while the service struck the right balance: informal but unobtrusive.
Mains from £20.50, Table d’hôte lunch £23.75 for two courses
Boulestin, St James’s Street
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
Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, Park Lane
With more than 20 restaurants and 18 Michelin stars, Alain Ducasse is one of the most decorated chefs in the world, and so my expectations were high when I arrived for lunch at his restaurant at the rear of The Dorchester hotel on Park Lane. The three-Michelin-starred restaurant, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, has an air of tasteful elegance, with its coffee and cream-coloured interior, wood panelling and tables draped in white linen tablecloths. My dining companion and I were welcomed by the restaurant director Damien Pépin, who talked us through our lunch menu. I was delighted that head chef Jean-Philippe Blondet, who has been at the helm since 2010, had a vegetarian meal – the menu jardin – for me to enjoy.
After a delicate amuse bouche, I began with a delicious quinoa and seasonal vegetable salad featuring aubergine, carrot and butternut squash. My friend, who went à la carte, was served Dorset crab topped with celeriac and caviar, which he described as beautifully tender. I was then presented with a pumpkin velouté with ricotta gnocchi and hazelnuts, which tasted wonderfully creamy without being too dense. My companion was equally happy with his confit of foie gras accompanied with cherries and basil, which he followed with veal medallions, chickpeas and sage. Next for me came a dish of plump heritage tomatoes compressed to form a small cake and decorated with wild flowers and garden vegetables. The tomatoes were ripe and succulent, proof of the importance that Blondet attaches to fresh, seasonal ingredients. The black venere rice that followed was tangy and suitably sweet, thanks to the accompanying fennel confit and lemon dressing.
After savouring a plate of four beautifully kept French cheeses, my companion and I still managed room to devour a decadent berry-flavoured vacherin for dessert. Service was outstanding with staff showing an exquisite attention to detail.
Three-course ‘lunch hour’ menu £65, three-course a la carte menu £100
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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