Open since the 1940s, Monmouth Street’s Mon Plaisir is London’s oldest French restaurant. And zut alors is it French – think Jacques Tati, necklace of onions, huff-on-a-Gauloises Gallic, with a menu to match.
Escargots, served out of their shells, were tender vehicles for a rather subdued garlic butter, which was light on allium but nicely spiked with crisp, aniseed-flavoured pastis. A whacking great duck breast might have lacked any pan-crisped, artery-furring skin, but was succulent and full-flavoured, served with a blueberry-laced jus and turnip wedges. Punchier still was the bouchée à la reine: a giant, offally vol au vent filled with onion, cream and diced sweetbread: gutsy, old-school and cripplingly rich. We didn’t need the side order of molten dauphinois (but scarfed it all down, anyway).
Desserts were a mixed bag: an otherwise fine chocolate mousse was oddly gelatinous, the pistachio cream on a brick-like almond financier was weirdly synthetic. A final dollop of Époisses cheese aside, they were an anticlimactic ending to an otherwise satisfying meal. Service was genial and brusque in the way that only the French can get away with. The restaurant itself has a marvellous Tardis-like quality. Of the two street-side dining rooms, one is warmly festooned with vintage booze ads and Parisian maps, and the other has a more Art Deco look – complete with a striking pewter bar at the back, supposedly pilfered from an old Lyonnaise brothel.
It’s far from the finest French restaurant that you can find in London, and you can get comparable grub for lower prices via Brasserie Zédel’s Prix Fixe menu or at Islington’s Le Mercury. But for a charming and vibey fill, Mon Plaisir is a pleasure indeed.