The Iberian peninsula might be where it’s at right now, but the city’s French restaurants continue to bring a lot to the table (literally). Good bread and good wine, roll-the-sleeves-up cheeses and OTT desserts are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget where they came from — and where still does them best. The list below is a mix of ancient and modern, but even the newcomers show a heartening disregard for food fashion, only remixing the classics very gently (if at all). If it ain’t broke...Read More
Where to Eat the Finest French Food in London
“Do you even Auberge de Chassignolles, mec?” The shrine to country cooking west of Lyon is responsible for much of what modern French food looks like in London right now, and alum Seb Myers is responsible for some of the best, at Planque, in Haggerston. Effortful attempts at being “just like Paris” across the city should look to Myers’s confident, complex, satisfying range of rich yet bright dishes, whether a chilled melon soup popped through with trout roe; a pork collar dressed up all Provençal, or spectacularly low-key desserts based on seasonal fruits.
Otto's French Restaurant
Actualment, Monsieur Otto n’est pas français – mais Otto’s est possiblé le restaurant plus français dans tout le cité. Regard, le canard à la presse! Le pigeon d’Anjou! Le quenelle de poisson Lyonnaise! Le menu est completement en français aussi. Merveilleux. Encore de Côtes du Rhône, s’îl-vous plait. Ou est la plume de ma tante?
Sorry to wheel out a cursed restaurant word, but Noizé is probably one of the city’s more underrated restaurants — if elegant classicisme is the would-be diner’s thing. Snacks, starters, mains, desserts; gougères, rabbit lasagana, glazed veal cheeks, chocolate sorbet; oui, oui, oui, oui.
Renowned chef Henry Harris has finally landed his revival of Racine, the Knightsbridge restaurant that was the doyen of London lunches in the early 2000s. Above the Three Compasses pub in Farringdon, and in partnership with restaurateur Dave Strauss, it’s an exercise in Gallic richness and heft. Look out for Harris’s famed rabbit with bacon and mustard sauce; a doozy of a crème caramel; and a veal chop with Roquefort butter. Animal fats are in for 2023.
Cassoulet, the pinnacle of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cooking, is what draws the crowds to this temple of the porky, punchy food of Southwestern France. There’s also a foie gras and truffle burger, and something called “piggy treats” — an assemblage of Bayonne ham, sausage, black pudding saucisson and pate. It’s a starter. This, it should go without saying, is not the place for a light lunch: the duck confit with potato cake will render all but the most committed eaters insensible for the rest of the afternoon.
Noble Rot Soho
Alex Jackson’s Sardine has dearly departed the city and thus this map, but fans can find his French country cooking in a new guise at Noble Rot’s Soho second album. The centrepiece, et le plat le plus français, is a roast chicken with morel mushrooms, served in a gorgeously nutty sauce made from vin jaune. A classical chocolate mousse and a choux bun with tojaki jelly and duck parfait as bookends, and diners are away.
An industry darling that counts Marina O’Loughlin, Fay Maschler, and Fergus Henderson among its admirers, London’s oldest French restaurant is thriving against all odds. The decor is pure Café René and the service can verge on resentful during rush hour, but if a break from the new-opening merry-go-round is in order, this is where to head. The classics are all present and correct: coq au vin, duck à l’orange, steak tartare, shoestring fries, peas with bacon and cream, profiteroles and coffee eclairs.
The website looks steam-powered, and the decor is best described as Hogarth reimagined by Christian Grey, but L’Escargot’s still got it. It was given a sprucing up in 2014, but the menu is still much as it was when it first opened in 1927 — lobster bisque, snails flambéed with Ricard, tournedos Rossini. The three course prix fixe, available from midday right through to 7pm, is one of the most civilised ways to dispose of a £20 note in Soho.
Meat-avoiders have traditionally gone hungry in French restaurants — an omelette aux fines herbes and some frisée dumped on the side of the plate is often is good as it gets. Give thanks, then, for Gauthier, which takes up three floors of a Regency townhouse on Romilly Street. Chef-patron Alexis Gauthier was an early and keen advocate of vegetable-first cooking, and his two entirely vegan menus (complete with tartares, veloutés and fondants) feel like labours of love rather than bandwagon-jumping. Carnivores, of course, are amply catered for too.
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This place has lost none of its sense of occasion. Marble and velvet abound, but prices — as has been widely noted — are more Cafe Rouge than Cafe Royal: the £10.95 prix fixe menu is a minor miracle in this bit of W1. The ile flottante, bobbing in pink praline-flecked creme anglaise, is up there with anything you’d find in Saint-Germain. Other members of the family also look lovingly across the Channel — Colbert’s croque monsieurs deserve an honourable mention, and Bellanger has a nice line in Alsacienne tartes flambées on Islington Green.
Writing a menu all in French — except for a couple of dishes — and designing a dining room to look just like un grand bistro would set many chefs up for a fall. But not in St. James’s, where Maison François pulls off the tribute act with aplomb. This is a place for classical, simple meat cookery, whether steak, roast chicken with herbs, or merguez; and for gougères and oeuf en gelée. Wine bar Frank’s, downstairs, is worth a visit for charcuterie and frites.
The Ritz London
John Williams uses The Ritz restaurant as a shrine to Escoffier-inspired classics, all of them executed flawlessly: Ballotine of duck liver with peach and hazelnut, new-season lamb, Bresse duck with beetroot and pickled blackberries, an ethereal apricot souffle.
Pique-Nique’s petit adelphe scratches up its menu on a blackboard in the language of its culinary ancestor. That is to say: on l’écrit en français. It changes daily, and might encompass a tartlet of boudin noir; rabbit leg with a risotto; and a highly classical millefeuille.
A sort of mock-Tudor Tardis plonked in the middle of a park, Pique-Nique may rank in the top 10 of London’s weirdest-looking restaurants, but it’s also one of its finest purveyors of French food. There’s an a la carte menu (written entirely en Français), but go for the multi-course menu autour du poulet de Bresse, which makes excellent use of everything but the bird’s beak. Over the road, big brother Casse-Crôute remains a masterclass in Gallic charm, with tables straight out of Lady and the Tramp, and a menu rich in mustard and cream.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
Obviously it’s a wallet-walloper, but think of dinner here as an investment. Claude Bosi has filled Michelin House with wit, charm and loving attention to detail since he moved in; the brace of stars feels inevitable, but also almost incidental. The tripe and cuttlefish gratin (made to his mother’s recipe) reads alarmingly, but through the tender ministrations of the kitchen it becomes something soulful and soothing. The ice creams, served from a stately trolley, come with warm madeleines — naturellement.
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When Henry Harris’ Racine served its last veal chop in 2015, the torch was ferried down the road to Medlar. Although there are a couple of Italian flourishes — a raviolo here, a burrata there — the menu’s framework is solidly, classically Gallic. Indeed, white onion velouté with roast foie gras, pistachios, confit quail legs and aged comté gougères must surely be the French-est dish in London, if not the world. Oh, and the chips (triple cooked, as advertised) come with Bearnaise. Not cheap, but magnifique for a splurge.
Look, if this place was in W1 it would be booked up months in advance. As it is, there’s a reasonable chance of a call made on Monday securing a table over the weekend, despite there only being 28 seats (most of them are at the bar, overlooking the busy kitchen). Husband-and-wife team Yoann and Sujin’s menu is set modern French with nods towards South Korea: previous dishes have included hake with grilled endive, kohlrabi, fennel and orange, and matcha rice pudding with caramelised pistachio. It’s mind-bogglingly good value, and the smoked butter that comes with the bread has a cult-like following.
This buzzy Brixton bistrot is a very fine example of how London, and its myriad dining influences which wax and wane, is refracting “French food” through its being, well, not in France. Margaux Aubry & Joe Sharratt put out dishes like crab with yuzu and peanut and a duck kiev with wild garlic butter and shimeji with a hospitable but breezy confidence, alongside a largely nu-French wine list.
Trends come and go, but Chez Bruce remains magnificently untouched by them. The menu, overseen by director Bruce Poole, has barely changed since he arrived in Wandsworth in 1995. Ballotines, croustades and parfaits dominate, while côte de boeuf for two and a burnished tarte tatin top the bill. It’s all superb, served in an elegant (if slightly characterless) space. Menu prices veer into sharp-intake-of-breath territory, but the wine list is incredibly good value.