The 100 best restaurants in London: French
Looking for the best French restaurants in London? Here you’ll find our favourite places serving fantastic French cuisine
Mon Aug 11 2014
When to go: When you want to show someone you really love them.
What to have: The charcuterie is a must; the set-price meals a steal.
It pains us to rate a US import so highly – Bar Boulud’s a branch of the original in New York. But the fact is, this is a seamless dining experience, with faultless service and exquisite French food in a smart Knightsbridge hotel – and all at prices which seem like a bargain for this standard of restaurant. Charcuterie takes centre stage, with an array of terrines, pâtés, hams and sausages. Mains run from classic croque monsieur to coq au vin and steak frites. To finish, there are cheeses divided by type (‘stinky’, ‘old and hard’) and classic puddings. So how does Bar Boulud make any money? The wine list is the answer – go easy on the delightful, but pricey wine list if you want to keep the bill below three figures for two.
When to go: Weekend brunches, or pre-7.15pm/post-9.45pm for the set dinner.
What to have: Pancakes at brunch, or the three-course set dinner – a snip at £17.50.
Known as much for hosting some of east London’s finest alternative performance acts, this stylish spot is a ‘scene’ kind of a place, but no worse for it. True, there might be as many people posing (without trying to look like they’re posing) as looking at their plates, but the French-leaning food is reliably decent, while the staff are friendly and professional. Come sunny weekends, when you’ll find pancakes (with maple syrup and bacon) on the menu as well as the ubiquitous full English or eggs benedict, you can really pretend you’re in Manhattan – or, more accurately, hipster Brooklyn.
When to go: When you fancy a French experience of Amélie-esque proportions.
What to have: A golden oldie such as chicken chasseur.
Ask anyone to list 20 things they’d expect to see in a classic French bistro and chances are you’ll find them at this dinky Gallic charmer, including lettered mirrors, tobacco-coloured walls and a tubby Michelin figurine behind the bar. The restaurant has been full from day one because of its sensible prices, artful grub, elbow-to-elbow bonhomie and peerlessly efficient staff. The chalkboard menu majors in boldly flavoured French hits such as fish soup, steak tartare and boeuf bourguignon, plus plenty of wines by the carafe – including special selections from La Cave d’Alex.
When to go: When you’re in the City and you want to take someone’s breath away.
What to have: The modern French dishes are exquisite; the signature ‘lasagne’ of Dorset crab especially so.
When selecting a Galvin restaurant for dinner, it’s always a toss-up between the Bistrot de Luxe in Marylebone (still one of the smartest brasseries in town), and La Chapelle. But for sheer wow factor, this swanky French restaurant wins hands-down. Once the chapel of a Victorian girls’ school, the vaulted Grade II-listed space, with its imposing columns and 100-foot ceilings, is awe-inspiring. Confusingly, the La Chapelle refers not to its history, but is a nod to its relationship with the Hermitage La Chapelle vineyard (which does have a chapel in it too, funnily enough).
When to go: For an understated meal in the new hipsville with exceptionally well-rendered dishes.
What to have: The vegetarian dishes on the seasonally changing menu put many dedicated vegetarian restaurants to shame.
Bordeaux-born chef Bruno Loubet has a lofty reputation for artfully prepared dishes, and his latest venture does not disappoint. Housed in a cavernous Victorian warehouse in King’s Cross brimming with hip factor – also home to Caravan and St Martin’s School of Art – the menu is a pick ’n’ mix of ingredients and cuisines all perfectly prepared. Vegetables play a starring role and there is plenty to dazzle both vegetarians and meat-eaters. Excellent cocktails at the bar are supervised by innovative mixologist Tony Conigliaro of 69 Colebrooke Row.
When to go: For a very, very special occasion; or lunch, when the offering’s smaller but much cheaper.
What to have: French classicism may work better for you than experiments with exotic seasoning.
Throughout its illustrious and long history, this lovely hotel dining room (check out the wood panelling and plaster ceiling) has featured the highest standards in both cooking and service. Under Hélène Darroze the traditional splendours have been modernised to dazzling effect. Luxury and formality are here aplenty, but it’s not intimidating as long as you relax and go with the flow. Darroze credits all suppliers of the principal ingredient in each on the menu, and partners them in ways that are sometimes fairly conventional and sometimes startling: cherry, pistachio and lemon verbena with foie gras, for instance. A high point comes at the end, in a whole trolley of petits fours.
When to go: Lunchtime is very busy, so arrive early or late if that’s what you’re after.
What to have: Cheese, duh. But the hot food is hot stuff, and the baking is done by boffins.
One of the London deli scene’s big cheeses, this would be a great place to spend an entire day. Start with breakfast, whether a relatively dainty boiled egg and soldiers or the ‘South West France Farmhouse Breakfast’ of cured meats and cheese. Then lunch, the fabulous cheeseboard on its wooden slab or superior sandwiches, great charcuterie, or rustic, expertly cooked French classics such as snails or confit duck. All of which ought to see you through to afternoon tea and a slice of lemon tart or Sicilian cheesecake. And if you think you’re up to it, take something home for dinner.
When to go: When you’re after world-class cooking with exceptional flavour combinations.
What to have: Save room for the wonderful puds.
Even if you don’t live near Chelsea, you should try to visit this exceptional restaurant at least once. The decor is understated: soothing grey-green colour scheme and unobtrusive artwork. The real artistry arrives on the plates, which are astoundingly good. Though dish descriptions run long, you’d be hard pushed to find a flavour out of place in the impressively executed French-skewed dishes. Both savouries and sweets are handled with confidence, and they’ll even accommodate off-piste requests. The wine list is of a calibre to match the food and includes a high-quality selection of wines under £30.
When to go: There’s no phone, so getting in is an act of faith: get there early, and only if you’re already in the area.
What to have: Whatever the day’s specials are: salt cod with lemon aioli, perhaps, or beef rump with snails and garlic butter.
A former car garage (Barnes Motors) in a residential part of Highbury has been converted – though not too much, as thanks to the workshop doors and signage it still looks like somewhere you’d pop in to have a new exhaust fitted. Once you get used to the industrial look of the dining room, you can focus your attention on the blackboard menu of Italian- and French-accented dishes with seasonal British ingredients at their core. The wine list is as much of a draw; from the hundred-bin cellar, staff pick a dozen or so wines for the day’s blackboard list, many sold by the glass.
When to go: When you’re in the mood for some old-school ooh-la-la.
What to have: Croque monsieur for weekend breakfasts; the smoked fish platter in the eves.
Even the townsfolk of E11 would be the first to admit it: Wanstead High Street seemed an unlikely place for an esteemed chef to make his comeback. But back in 2012, that’s just what Max Renzland did (he previously ran a string of acclaimed bistros in the 90s, including Chez Max in Richmond, Le Petit Max in Hampton Wick and Michelin-starred Monsieur Max in Hampton Hill). Provender has since settled into its groove, and Wansteaders have got used to having rich, Gallic fare, terrific wines and a steady stream of foodie tourists right on their doorsteps.
When to go: When nibbling near Charing Cross.
What to have: The tasting plates.
Why do we rate this wine bar so highly? Because it’s a place we’re happy to return to time after time, and also somewhere we feel utterly confident in recommending to food lovers in a very central location. When it opened more than two years ago, the small tasting plates of Frenchish, pan-European food seemed almost revolutionary, because they were more than just an afterthought to the extensive wine list – in fact, they eclipsed the standard cooking of most French restaurants in the Big Smoke.
The menu is a frequently changing list that takes in charcuterie (pistachio and pork terrine is first-class), tapas-style bar snacks (duck scratchings, Marcona almonds) and plats du jour (pot-roasted quail, bavette steak). Two years on and little has changed, except that Terroirs has expanded a little, it’s still packed, and it’s much-imitated. The new branch, Brawn in Bethnal Green, is good too – but not as good as this original.
When to go: When you want the best midweek lunch in London.
What to have: The celeriac cooked in ash is a classic, but scallop ceviche with horseradish ‘snow’ is a rising favourite.
Brett Graham’s Notting Hill restaurant is fiendishly consistent when it comes to cooking and service. The Modern European menu doesn’t read like many others either, with just enough flair to impress but not alienate. The service is some of the best in London, too – the friendly, Aussie-accented staff really know their stuff. The weekday set lunch is astonishing value considering the calibre of cooking: £27.50 for two courses, £33.50 for three, with all the amuse bouches, pre-desserts and petits-fours included. An affordable luxury.
When to go: When you’ve bagged a babysitter and want a grown-up but local meal for two.
What to have: On Sundays, order a roast for the table – each week is different.
The most gastronomically ambitious destination in East Dulwich has won a strong local following for its good looks, friendly welcome and top-class food. Specialising, Terroirs-style, in highfalutin small plates and natural wines, Toasted’s ever-surprising menu offers highly seasonal ingredients – impeccably sourced from as nearby as Forest Hill – with accomplished flavours and textures. The wine list is an expert assembly of natural corkers from small producers, plus good-quality ‘bulk’ wines in steel vats that start from as little as £3 a glass. The brick and wood dining room is low-key enough to work as an all-day affair, and sweet service seals the deal.