Hipsters: prepare to be outraged. There’s a new kid in town, with dishes as retro as a Rubik’s Cube, but without the side of irony. That’s because it’s the latest gaff from Corbin & King, the chaps behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay, and Brasserie Zédel. Like those, it’s named in connection with classic cars (backstory: The Wolseley site was originally built as the showroom of the Wolseley Car Company). Bellanger is a nod to the Société des Automobiles Bellanger Frères, a French car manufacturer from 1912 to ’25 (fun fact: Monsieur Bellanger sold Delaunay cars).
And once again, it pays homage to the golden era of all-day ‘grand cafés’. Formerly home to a popular-but-uninspiring branch of Brown’s, the site’s potential has at last been realised. The layout’s much the same (airy front section, intimate rear space, bustling middle to connect the two), but the refit by David Collins’s protégé Shayne Brady is all new. If you can call interiors straight from the Alsatian brasseries of turn-of-the-century Paris ‘new’, that is. (Bit of history: these were set up by refugees fleeing the Alsace after the region was annexed by Germany). It’s gorgeously art nouveau, all polished wood panelling, smoky mirrors and flattering golden lighting. An abundance of booths encourages group dining and café chatter. You can’t buy this kind of buzz.
The food – a Venn diagram of French, German and Alsatian – is simple, yet flawless. If Angela Merkel and François Hollande embarked upon an illicit affair (please God, no), this would be where they’d eat. There was a mustardy prawn cocktail ‘up-luxed’ with crayfish, a crunchy-coated veal schnitzel beaten as flat as a kipper, and a buttery ‘coq au riesling’ – chicken in a mushroom and wine sauce – served in its own pretty casserole. There’s an irresistible nostalgia across the dessert list, from our dinky black forest gâteau, to the moreish crêpes suzettes: a couple of warm folded pancakes dressed with a grand marnier sauce, grated orange zest and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Portions are generous, so for the best value, come with friends and order less than you’d expect. Who knows, even those of you in the beard-grooming, cosmetic-glasses-wearing brigade might just love it.