Browse our pick of bistros, brasseries and fine-dining French restaurants with plenty of va va voom. London's French fancies span every budget, so choose anything from Michelin star restaurants to petit back alley bistros and chic cafes. Do you agree with our choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Bar Boulud is located in the basement of the majestic Mandarin Oriental and attracts a diverse mix of families, hotel guests, business people and romancing couples. Overseen by renowned chef Daniel Boulud, the restaurant has an eye-catching view of the open-plan kitchen where chefs work in zen-like calm. Charcuterie from Gilles Verot is a big draw, as are the elegant French brasserie options and finger-licking American staples. We’ve had burgers here and loved every bite – perhaps a beef patty topped with pulled pork and green chilli mayonnaise or a French-US collaboration of beefy burger piled high with pork confit and morbier cheese. On our latest visit, we enjoyed such culinary gems as a robust french onion soup, resplendent with caramelised onions and topped with molten gruyère. A veritable mountain of steamed plump mussels cloaked in garlicky red chilli tomato sauce was another winner – every last saucy drop mopped up with chargrilled bread. The only downer was a lacklustre chocolate sponge layered with chilled coffee buttercream, although its accompanying scoop of coffee ice-cream saved the day. A class performance topped off by seamless service. The cheapest way in here is the 'Bouchon Menu' served daily from noon–7pm: 2 courses for £17 or 3 courses for £19 including a glass of house wine and coffee. Otherwise, Sunday Brunch (served 11am-3.30pm; £39pp) is a fun way to experience Bar Boulud's delights, mixing super-indulgent French and American dishes with plenty ofRead more
In early 2013, Keith McNally’s much-anticipated NYC import Balthazar finally opened, and London got to see what this Manhattan interpretation of a French brasserie was actually like. The response was positive, and for weeks afterwards it was hard to get a table. Chef Robert Reid has tinkered little with the nostalgic transatlantic menu, and we loved signature dishes such as the onion soup (grilled gruyère lid on thick country bread, immersed in a rich and sweet chicken stock); duck shepherd’s pie was another powerfully flavoured treat. More recently, some of the gloss seems to have worn off (though service remains prompt and friendly). The cheeseburger, no bargain at £17, was a chunky patty but had little flavour, and needed more than the limited, bland trimmings to give it an oomph that might have justified the price tag. A pleasant gruyère and herb omelette tasted as though it had lingered a little too long at the pass. Best was pavlova (one of several delightfully retro desserts) – it may not have looked like a classic version (the meringue sat on the fruit, rather than the other way round), but it tasted good. Bread, from master baker Jon Rolfe, is a must-try. Balthazar London mimics the New York original perfectly, with red awnings, red leather banquettes, giant antiqued mirrored walls and mosaic floors, but to British eyes, the decor can look a little too close to any old chain brasserie.Read more
Few haute establishments have the hospitable hum of the Ledbury. Whether it’s due to the off-centre location, the Aussie input, or diners’ sheer delight in securing a table, this former pub remains top-tier for gustatory good times. British ingredients – Hampshire buffalo milk curd, smoked eel, Cumbrian lamb – line up alongside delicacies such as Tokyo turnips, Bresse chicken and black truffle, but it’s chef Brett Graham’s clever contemporary treatment of them that sets the place apart. Best go for the set lunch or commit to the mesmerising £105 tasting menu; at £80 for three courses, the carte does not have the other menus’ winning sense of value, particularly if you choose the simpler ingredient-led dishes. A spring plate of creamed Jersey Royals with morels cooked in tea would have been a delightful inclusion in a dégustation, but served as a starter was not sufficiently above mashed potato to justify the outlay, even though the mushrooms were sublime. Ledbury signatures, however, are consistently thrilling – particularly the flame-grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, celtic mustard and shiso; and, well, all the desserts. The wine list is personable with a particularly good choice of sweet wines by the glass, plus great beers from Australia, the US and even Notting Hill.Read more
Venue says: Kettner's Kan Kan - a magical underworld of dreams and curiosities with cabaret, live music and decadence. Tickets on sale now! kettners.com
NOTE: Early in 2015 it was announced that Soho Estates and Soho House plan to redevelop Kettner's with a public restaurant, champagne bar and 28 new bedrooms. This review was written before those plans were announced. A Georgian-chic champagne bar with a restaurant next door that’s buzzing every night of the week, Kettner’s is a safe bet in Soho. The cocktail bar has lavish velvet curtains, plush seating and low-lit alcoves filled with the tinkle of laughter and champagne flutes, while the restaurant suits groups who want a bit of glamour and history (Oscar Wilde dined here), but don’t necessarily crave too many surprises on the menu. Large windows and distressed white woodwork create a relaxed and upmarket feel, but the tables are close together and soft electro music keeps a modern edge. You get what you expect from a quality brasserie: steak cooked perfectly, chips triple fried, service a little flirty, and there’s always crème brûlée on the menu. A buffalo mozzarella starter came with a dense confit of tomatoes and deliciously sharp basil dressing, and this lightness was carried through to the salmon and prawn fish cakes served with buttery poached egg for mains. Potato gratin was a little dry, but you could forgive the kitchen once you tasted the rich and cheddary cauliflower cheese. Mango and passion-fruit pavlova was, much like the rest of the meal, very well executed if a little predictable.Read more
Venue says: Wedding time is coming! Don't hesitate to visit us if you fancy our traditional croquembouche or our fabulous cakes for your big event.
Hardly known for its pretty fancies, Hammersmith is moving into the fast lane with this on-trend French patisserie-café. It’s hard not to be taken by the cochineal pink frontage, retro-patterned wallpaper and walls the colour of lime curd.After running a bakery of the same name in Paris for 20 years, the owners have upped sticks and now make their couture collection of beautifully presented pâtisserie and breads on site in west London. Top-rate crusty baguettes and soft milk breads host life-affirming fillings. Besides meaty choices, the vegetarian options include herby pesto that contrasts with the crunch of green beans and creamy mozzarella; or there’s garlicky houmous partnered with grilled and golden-hued halloumi.After several visits we reckon their tart aux pommes is the best we’ve tasted in London. Nothing beats its crisp puff pastry base, slathered with smooth Bramley purée and precision-sliced apple topping. Other highlights include éclairs crammed with seriously chocolatey crème pâtissière, and a moreish autumnal fig and pistachio sponge tartlet. Sainte Anne isn’t just for inbetween-times either: their baguette or croissant breakfasts – a bargain at £3 a pop – include own-made jam and a coffee. Pitching their prices well below central London offerings, their light-bite meal deals give the sandwich chains a run for their money, so your wallet won’t feel much slimmer after a quality sandwich, posh cake and soft drink. Shame the same can’t be said for your waistline.Read more
Restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, creators of the Wolseley and the Delaunay, have struck gold with this grand art deco basement brasserie. It’s a huge set-up and attracts a mix of tourists, office types and couples. Affordable French staples are the big draw and set menus start at under a tenner for two courses. In the months after it opened, we’d been impressed by the quality of cooking and on-the-ball service, but recently we’ve detected a dip in standards. In a meal of hits and misses, highlights included a generous main course of beef bourguignon – meaty chunks simmered in a robust red wine-onion-garlic sauce, accompanied by buttery mash. The haché steak was less impressive, though; instead of chopped meat being shaped and loosely held together, we were presented with a salty, overcooked burger patty. Chocolate profiteroles helped to restore faith – the perfectly baked crisp globes of choux pastry, crammed with splendid whipped vanilla cream, went down a treat with an indulgent chocolate sauce. The house wine, priced at bargain basement rates, provides great value. Let’s hope the kitchen brigade is back on track soon, and service staff numbers are increased at busy times.Read more
This south London wine bar and brasserie set in a refurbished English boozer is managed by a couple of French brothers - maitre d', Nolan, and head chef, Florent. There's a certain pedigree to it too, with the pair's parents running the long-standing Lobster Pot, just down the road. Live music upstairs, in the Piano Bar, plays an important part in evenings here. Expect jazz quartets, soul soloists, vocal harmonies and even a bit of funk alongside open-mic sessions and nights dedicated to the musicals of the West End. The ground-floor brasserie serves rustic French fare. Expect pan-fried chicken livers, terrines of foie gras, vegetarian croustades, moules marinière and cassoulets served for two. There's also a smoking terrace, a private dining room, free WiFi and newspapers, should you fancy a lounge.Read more
The presence of the three-strong Gascon group (as well as Comptoir Gascon, there’s wine bar Cellar Gascon) ensures that a small area of east-central London has a flavour of south-west France. This is the most expensive of the trio, a Michelin-starred sanctuary of haute cuisine. Heavy wooden screens shut out the world; inside is a serene and urbane room of greys and golds with marble panels. Head chef Pascal Aussignac is from Toulouse, and the hallmarks of the area’s cuisine shine through in his food, although it’s given the fancifications this level of restaurant requires. A playful approach means many dishes come with descriptions in inverted commas or feature unusually prepared ingredients. Flavour combinations are bold, which adds to the sense of occasion, and the technique is flawless; perhaps less so the tendency to unorthodox plating. However, everything else was note-perfect.Read more
Venue says: Enjoy a pre-theatre menu from 5.30-8pm. £15 for two courses between starter, main or dessert, and £18 for three courses.
This Bedford Street restaurant, right in the heart of Covent Garden, is the flagship venue from Paul - the chain of popular cafés-cum-bakeries-cum-patisserie. It still sells pretty cakes and baked bits and bobs to passersby, but there's a full menu on offer too - as well as booze. As you might expect, there's a firm French slant to the food and drink on offer. Dishes range from charcuterie platters and oven baked Camembert to salad Niçoise, omelettes and pâté de campagne with bread, cornichons and pickled baby onions. Expect tartes aux fruits, millefeuille and macarons for dessert. The wine selection is focused solely on France, with a section dedicated to bottles from artisan winemakers located in well-known regions - a Loire Valley sauvignon blanc from La Chardoisie, in Touraine, for example. Keep an eye out for pre-theatre menus, too.Read more
Romantic settings don’t get more splendidly over-the-top than this. Take your pick from the wood-panelled restaurant or the atmospheric conservatory, bedecked in a forest of fake white blossoms that seem to extend into eternity as they bounce off the restaurant’s mirrors. Fairy lights, candles and a fireplace add to the soft focus vibe. On our early evening visit, tables were filled with mature couples and curious tourists. It’s a Provençal-inspired menu, and although à la carte choices are pegged at the sharp end, the pre-theatre menu offering is a bargain. A cavernous bowl of gazpacho topped with crunchy croûtons and diced cucumber blew our socks off (in a good way) with its unashamedly pungent garlicky kick. Satisfyingly filling, a trio of meaty bites – foie gras terrine, herby pork shoulder confit and a tasty kofta – made for a carnivore’s delight. Less memorable, chunky roasted pollock fillet was tender and juicy, but overshadowed by a rich moat of vermouth cream, buttery crushed potatoes and softened leeks (more butter) – not one for the faint-hearted. Service is polished, if a tad austere, and the wine selection seriously impressive.Read more
Brawn is the second offering from the team behind Terroirs (and most recently, Soif), and is nicely pitched to appeal to a hip east London crowd without alienating other diners. Staff are young and attentive, and there’s a contented buzz about the place. The decor is unfussy: two rooms with whitewashed walls and simple furniture. Likewise, the terse menu: ‘Cod’s roe £4’, for example, doesn’t do justice to the deluxe taramasalata that appears. Dishes are made to share. From a selection labelled ‘Pig’ we tried moreish pork rillettes; from ‘Cold’, hand-chopped Tuscan-style beef was steak tartare by any other name, and equally good. Less full-on options might be swiss chard with Cantabrian anchovies and lemon, or buffalo mozzarella with olive oil and capers. The ‘Hot’ choice included excellent clams with lemon and garlic, and gone-in-a-flash cauliflower cheese. Unmissable crêpes with salted caramel butter are among the short list of puddings. Much care is taken over provenance: cheese comes from Androuet (Spitalfields) and the wonderful bread from E5 Bakehouse (London Fields). ‘Natural’ wine is showcased on the drinks list, with most bottles produced by small, committed growers; it certainly makes for an interesting choice.Read more
Signed photos from many of Britain’s best-loved actors line the walls at l’Etoile, forming a great sea of thespian endorsement that fills every available space. The restaurant itself has been around for over a century, and its aesthetic is firmly of the old school; etched glass, red banquettes and starched linen remain the order of the day. The food is resolutely classic too: a ham hock terrine starter with apple chutney and sauce vierge is straight from the Left Bank; and a delicate double-baked mushroom soufflé is a well-judged French staple, served with a cool twist of chive crème fraîche. Main courses satisfied without enthralling. A light, fresh salmon and leek fish cake arrived with mushy peas and an endive salad, and corn-fed chicken accompanied by a mini kiev and red wine sauce was hearty yet undistinguished. There’s more imagination at work in the desserts. A light lemon tart came intriguingly topped with popping candy, and a hefty portion of rice pudding was decked with great shavings of caramelised pineapple. Elena’s faded grandeur and traditional dishes are part of its charm: this is a place for a nostalgic feed rather than an inspiring one.Read more