Browse our pick of bistros, brasseries and fine-dining French restaurants with plenty of va va voom. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
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
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
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 foie gras, 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
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, six dishes of astounding excellence. Assemblies are complex and have lengthy names, exemplified in our two starters: crisp calf’s brain with smoked duck breast, aïoli, pink fir potatoes and tardivo (raddichio); and confit skate with razor-clam vinaigrette, purple sprouting broccoli, globe artichokes, Jersey Royals and salsify. But every ingredient justifies its place in entirely natural-seeming juxtapositions of flavour, texture and colour. And the execution is nearly flawless, the only off-note being slightly undercooked potatoes. Save room for wonderful (and relatively simple) puddings. Cardamom custard with saffron oranges, pomegranate and langues de chat sang with flavour. And we loved it when, asked for an off-menu fruit salad, the kitchen sent out a bowl of beautiful orange segments, strawberries and pomegranate seeds. Weekday lunch is the cheapest option, though not for the six gents seated nearby who ordered two bottles of Dom Perignon and carried on with serious red Burgundy (this is haut-Chelsea, after all). There’s a small, high-quality selection of wines under £30, but £40 will give you a better time. For world-class cooking at this level of complexity, it’s worth the extra money.Read more
The wine list at this Loire specialist is a real marvel. An evident passion and on-the-ground knowledge underpin an esoteric haul of treasures from along the long and diverse river – we’d be surprised if a better selection exists even in France. Not that the wine bar takes itself too seriously, featuring quirky illustrations such as ‘great beards of the Loire’. With its varied styles and wealth of small (often natural) producers, the region is a good match for the Terroirs’ approach (Green Man & French Horn is an offshoot) and also meets the current thirst for rosés, champagne alternatives and off-piste explorations (although classics such as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are well represented). The food is also influenced by the river, with many dishes and ingredients sourced from its course and given a contemporary presentation. Fish and seafood dishes reflect coast rather than river, and less usual meats are given the stripped-down St John treatment in, for example, ‘snails, celeriac & mousserons’ or ‘rillon, endive & mustard’. We enjoyed girolles, well-trimmed artichoke and egg yolk, and copious, faultless grilled langoustines. The long thin room has wooden furniture, bare brick walls, black and white floor tiles and a long bar illuminated by factory lamps; staff are able and enthusiastic. Don’t let the wine bar-style fool you: this is a serious restaurant taking wine and food pairing to a new level.Read more
Genial staff take obvious pleasure in working this historic dining room, with its beautiful wood panelling and floral plasterwork ceiling. India Mahdavi’s feminine interior of velvety golds complements the original features, while Damien Hirst’s artwork keeps it grounded in the present. Waistcoats, silver jugs and Baccarat crystal denote formality, so first-timers may be surprised by the rusticity of the food on display: a leg of ham for carving, butter pats as big as cheese truckles, huge biscuit jars. Best to go with the flow. Darroze put trendy piment d’espelette on the culinary map and her menus reveal a passion for all things peppery. Yet this is not fiery cuisine; sometimes we wish it was a little less French, such as in the irritating refinement of hake with razor clams, salsa verde and minuscule girolles, which anywhere else would have been a muscular dish. No complaints, though, about perfectly proportioned foie gras crème brûlée with bright apple sorbet. Dessert was a clever globe of chocolate, which, when hot chocolate sauce was poured over, collapsed to reveal a layered tower of black-forest-themed indulgences. The sweet avalanche continued with a whole trolley of petits fours to choose from – cinnamon marshmallow and an apricot and salted-caramel macaron were particular favourites. Such is the special-occasion nature of the place that everyone is presented with a personalised souvenir menu; but rest assured, the experience is memorable in its own right.Read more
NB in February 2014 chef Ollie Couillaud left; who will replace him is not yet clear. The review below refers to 2013 only. Time Out Editors More refined than you’d infer from its name alone, the Lawn Bistro is a classic French dining room that has added a strong independent voice to the chain restaurants and cafés of Wimbledon. Open since 2011, it offers accomplished French cuisine via two- or three-course prix fixe menus and a drinks list notable for French ciders and beer from Wimbledon’s By the Horns brewery. There’s also a good range of global wine, with plenty by the glass. Ollie Couillaud, formerly head chef at La Trompette, does stray geographically, though, so don’t be too surprised to find the likes of lamb with yorkshire pudding and mint sauce alongside dauphinois potatoes. Elegantly presented pan-fried sea bream synched well with pomegranate vinaigrette and artichoke purée, while guinea fowl leg with puy lentils benefited from smoky bacon lardons and a peppy salsa verde. Sweet seduction comes in the form of a baked alaska, torched at your table, for two to share, but the cheeseboard is also a temptation. The space itself is smart, grey and unremarkable, and service pleasantly attentive. Ring for details of ‘wine dinners’, when a specially conceived menu is designed around wines of a particular grape variety or region.Read 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
An outpost of the New York flagship, 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 FrencRead more
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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
The London branch of Robuchon’s high-end globe-spanning chain (there are also outposts in Las Vegas, Taipei and his native Paris) could be anywhere in the world, but thinks it’s funkier than most gastronomic shrines. The ground-floor restaurant – sorry, ‘counter concept’ – is an international nightclub-like red- and black-lacquered room with red leather high stools either facing the chefs at their balancing-act work or at small tables. Customers are mostly tourists, drawn by the reputation for quality control and clever layering of texture and flavour – distilled in a stunning amuse-bouche of foie gras under a port reduction and hot, umami-rich froth. Flavours are big, such as pig’s trotter with bone marrow on toast, powered up with parmesan (a rewarding choice from the small plates menu). Portions aren’t prissy, either; from the set lunch, chicken escalope dotted with dark olives and roasted cherry tomatoes covered the plate. Steak tartare was exceptionally punchy, though the accompanying ‘hand-cut chips’ were lost in translation – they were actually own-made crisps. Mashed potato was wonderfully rich and smooth, and a side plate of glisteningly green olive oil-bathed courgettes and puréed spiced carrots was no afterthought. Desserts conjured with refreshing and intensely flavoured combinations of jellies, mousses, foams and ices. Except for lunch, pricing is pitched at fat wallets, with menus and wines matched into accessible packages. Knowledgeable staff come with a twinklRead more
The route between the Almeida theatre over the road and this D&D London restaurant is a well-trodden one: visit of an evening and there’s an exodus before curtain-up. The pre-theatre menu here, then, is often just that – and is excellent value at £17 for two courses, £20 for three. Those without a show to rush to can take more time over the sophisticated cooking, which is broadly modern French with a few excursions around Europe and Britain. On our last visit, Cornish pollock was paired with golden sultana and cauliflower couscous, and a risotto was rich with wild mushrooms and parmesan; both were from the set menu and served beautifully in glazed pottery dishes. Such thoughtful touches set the standard high – crisp water biscuits with the cheese were seeded and clearly own-made; the charcuterie board is a rustic plank of rillettes, terrines and scotch eggs, all produced in-house. The open kitchen looks on to a discreetly elegant, modern room enlivened by a vast, colourful mural and broadsided by a small bar with its own food menu. As a special-occasion alternative to the many restaurants in Islington, Almeida is a star. NOTE: As of mid-September 2014, the restaurant has reopened after an extensive refurbishment. Among the changes is the elimination of a printed wine list in favour of suggestions from the waiter to fit in with your meal and budget, with the additional option of inspecting their 'Wine Wall,' where all the wines on offer are on show. There were also some chaRead more