A long-standing Knightsbridge institution, this little bistro has spread its wings and taken its Francophone food east. The new Smithfield branch is a bit more mod than the cosy westside version, which suits the suits passing through for business lunches. But both branches share the same perfectly-executed traditional, French-style cooking. We’re talking escargots, cote de boeuf and confit de canard. High-end comfort food done just right, with set menus that are great value too.
Sometimes it’s nice to have a little grandeur. A fancy entrance, dangly (blinging) chandeliers, squishy slightly luxurious banquettes and some art nouveau style thrown in just to pull it all together. No wonder we’re big fans of Brasserie Chavot since it ticks all those boxes and lays on damn good food to boot. It should do, chef Eric Chavot has serious Michelin-style pedigree, but his latest foray in the kitchen channels simpler food; classic brasserie stuff, and boy does it do it good. We do have one or two little quibbles with the (we think cheeky) charge for bread and dodgy acoustics which mean you have to shout a bit, but this place still does great food and does it with style.
This darling place in the style of a charming French bistro could not be more out of place thrust between fried chicken shops on Mare Street. Round the corner in chichi Broadway Market, sure, makes total sense. But Mare Street, Mare Street lacks a certain,how shall I say, charm. Not to worry, Bouchon Fourchette makes up for it with oodles of the stuff at a very affordable price. The menu’s simple stuff, exactly as it should be. Bone marrow on toast to start is a meal itself, and the raclette platter for sharing could feed an army. Perfect for cosying up a la francais when the weather’s being all English.
Keith McNally’s latest outpost of Balthazar is so smoking hot, it’s near impossible to bag a table and no wonder, this place is bang on the money. The vast dining room is almost identical to its New York sister restaurant; think plush leather booths, a French Bistro vibe and beautifully high ceilings. Somehow, in true McNally style, it still feels intimate. So intimate that you’ll want to take your mum, your best mate, your wife and your mistress (not all at once, of course). The menu is predictable, but not boring. It’s proper French comfort food for those that live this side of the channel; French onion soup (gloriously thick), steak tartare (a strong contender for the best in London), moules frites (garlicky and gorgeous) and chocolate soufflé (the stuff dreams are made of). The wine list is basic and unpretentious and service is friendly and unobtrusive. The prices are leaning towards the expensive side, but manageable. Book it and book it now, you will have no regrets (other than the 20 minutes you spend on hold that you’ll never get back). Alternatively, walk in, cross your fingers that they have a spare table (they tend to hold some 2-3 person tables back) or better still, nab a sneaky seat at the bar.
Birkins and booze are a solid fixture at this Sloaney newbie, sister to the Wolseley and the newest addition to the ever-expanding Corbyn and King empire. Supposedly housed in the most tendered restaurant site in London history, Colbert delivers more in atmosphere than innovation, but who cares? Buzzing from breakfast to last orders, the French brasserie-style menu keeps it simple so expect steak tartare, moules meuniere and assorted ‘croques’. Desserts are worth saving room for (remember the pastry trolley at the Wolseley? We thought so), but most of the clientele save their calories for booze, and plenty of it. Nab an outside table in nice weather if you can. Blink and you’ll miss one; it’s a badly kept secret that this is the people watching spot in SW1.
Perennially top of the most-romantic- destinations in London lists (yes, these do really exist – we don’t just make this stuff up, y’know), Clos Maggiore is prime date territory. Make sure you get a table in the fabulously kitsch conservatory out back. The dining room is wreathed by fake flowers and fairy lights so you can giggle at the OTT arrangement or roll with the romance – either way, it’ll disarm your date. Even better the roof opens up in the summer so you’re practically dining al fresco. The food is French with Mediterranean accents and just fabulous. Surprisingly for a French place, there are also some very tasty veggie options that make good use of seasonal ingredients. Don’t forget the wine, at 2,000 strong the list is well worth a read, though the sommelier is more than happy to help out if the breadth of choice gets too overwhelming. Prices are getting on to the high side, but very reasonable pre and post theatre menus can make for a sneaky cheap date.
This ginormous, no-fuss Brasserie from the guys behind the Wolseley takes things down a notch or two on the posh scale, but goes off the richter on pretty much everything else. Down a sweeping art deco staircase, past a cabaret (all part of the Zedel empire) and through a broad reception area, diners trot into a heaving, bustling, real-life brasserie. This is high-impact décor, pink marble pillars, gilt edged banquettes, and lots and lots of space. Just try (if you possibly can) not to focus to avert your gaze from the bright salmon pink tablecloths. An unfortunate choice in and of themselves, but positively criminal when paired with maroon upholstery. Ahem, moving on from that outburst. The food is simple, the execution perfunctory, but the value can’t be beat. Wine flows freely and huge booths accomodate plenty ready to party. Plus, with a two-course prix fixe menu at 8.75, this is a steal and it tastes very pleasant too. Even a la carte nothing costs over 20 quid. Go on, treat yourself.
Going since 1967, this Mayfair must-have is positively ancient by London restaurant standards, which makes the stuffy décor almost forgivable. The sublime food and impeccable service makes it absolutely unforgettable. Yes, this place is old school, but in all the best ways. Presided over by TV chef darling and generally nice guy Michel Roux Jar, who took over at the helm from father Albert Roux in 1991, this place exudes luxury. The staff are attentive, but unobtrusive and incredibly knowledgeable. The prices are astronomical and the food is dripping with cream and butter (just as good French food should). Request one of the plush booths if you can to get the best view of the dining room drama (and so you can recline in comfort once you’ve gorged, of course). The soufflé Suissesse is a must-eat. It’s been on the menu since day one, and let’s be honest who can resist anything this cheesy and creamy. Heart attack be damned, just say yes. If you’re going in the evening expect the bill to rack up well into the hundreds, which makes the £52 lunch menu one of the best value in London. Whenever you go, be sure to book well in advance.
The closest you’ll get to the French Riviera in London, this import from Nice has the goods; the atmosphere – somehow summery even in the middle of a miserable British winter – the continental lookers for clientelle and by George the food. Stand-out starters include the deliciously sweet Pissadiliere (an onion tart , if you must ask), French beans with Foie Gras and possibly the best Burrata in London. Mains include a sublime whole baked sea bream (big enough to share) and an epically perfect roast baby chicken. Then to end, the French toast is an out-of-this-world must! Be wary of expanding waist lines though, the space can get a little cozy so don’t be surprised to find yourself jowl to elbow with the odd suited and booted euro-foody. Spare a thought as you jostle for space to operate cutlery – poor diddums – this is the closest they can get to their Riviera retreats when in London.
Everything, from the vaulted ceilings to the perfectly preened table settings, is designed to impress at the Galvin Brothers’ swank and sophisticated city restaurant. Suits wine and dine corporate clients on the upmarket French food in the day, while the atmosphere turns more convivial and even romantic in the evening. Both sets of guests tend to take full advantage of the very extensive wine list fabulously knowledgeable sommelier. The food is rich, refined and mouthwateringly good, though there’s not much on offer for veggies. Be sure to save room for dessert, the rum baba and tarte tatin are big and not to be missed. Plus a spoonful of sugar might help you swallow the bill. Reservations are, of course, de rigeur.