I must have passed by this restaurant a thousand times. I was vaguely aware that Marcus Wareing once cooked here and that it also once was the proud owner of a Michelin star, but that was a very long time ago. First impressions weren’t great – it looked tired and old-fashioned. Even though I was late, my client K, whose choice this was, hadn’t turned up and they had no record of the booking. It didn’t matter though because it wasn’t full. And there was no booking.
K had sung the praises of this restaurant and told me that I must try it. He’s based in King Street, just around the corner and this is very convenient. He tells me that he has more or less been using this as his staff canteen, which strikes me as a rather expensive habit, but K is a man not known for restraint and I salute his attitude.
Now whilst K isn’t at the cutting-edge of trendy food and really not a follower of foodie fashion, he does have a decent palate and if he tells me that something is good, it generally is. So I ignored the rather 80’s decor and waited.
He turned up a couple of minutes later – the maitre d’ lit up with joy and the staff all greeted him warmly. No exaggeration – he clearly is using this restaurant as his canteen. It was like being with a celebrity. We basked in the glow of wonderful attention. Sat at a comfortable table (one of those tables for four, made into a table for 2 – I do like that) I ordered the obligatory Kir. Extra cassis.
The menu describes itself as “French Provencal” and it pretty much does what it says on the tin, albeit a very flowery and elaborate one. There was a single nod to the east with langoustine tempura, or to give it its authentic description – Langoustines en beignet de Tempura, au parfum de citronelle, parfait d’avocats et mangue au curry . And I didn’t even order that. I had Ravioli et effeilles d’artichauts epinaux a la sauge, jambon Serrano. It’s that sort of place. Basically, it was ravioli stuffed with goats cheese with a truffle sauce. It was very nice, slightly cloying, rich, unctuous and tasty. Not a dish for a diet. To me, not enough differentiation between the artichoke ravioli and the goats cheese and I would have liked a sharper cheese within the ravioli but then I like a sharp goat’s cheese. K had the same dish is me. He clearly enjoyed it because he stopped talking for about 30 seconds.
A massive red wine drinker, K was persuaded by me ( and the sommelier) to try a glass of Vouvray. I’ve been put onto this by my friend Ruth who runs wine evenings in her spare time and is always great for unusual ideas. I suspect like most people who aren’t wine professionals, I automatically assumed that Vouvray was sweet. Not so. The sommelier was very keen that we choose it over the Chablis and K was game. It was delicious, crisp and apple-y and I would recommend it if you like grassy, fresher wines.
For my main course – and yes, I’m sorry, but I suffered with it and so will you : Filets de sole farcis aux douces saveurs des sous-bois, jenues poireaux confits sauce cremeuse aux truffles noires. Are you getting it yet? Quite fussy, like the description, elaborate cooking, but actually delicious. Dover sole fillets with a truffle cream sauce. It was elegant cooking and a match for some more popular restaurants I can name.
What I enjoyed in particular was the speed with which K devoured his food. I thought I was the world’s fastest eater but no. The Crown is worn by K, who has wrested it from me. We had a big discussion about slow eaters and our inability to eat with dignity and pace ourselves. It made me happy.
We skipped dessert. I’m already on the path to hell and K is not far behind, but he had warned me about the petits fours and very sweet they were too. A chocolate truffle with an unexpected soft fruity centre, better than it sounds; a little cake thing and a third thing which I can’t remember but I think it had a fruit component, which probably explains it. K managed to shove 3 glasses of cognac down his throat whilst I was faffing about with the petit-fours and we had slightly weak coffee and called it a day. They didn’t have verveine which was a bit of an omission in an uber-French restaurant. I’ll live.
I did get a little cake-y giftette on the way out which managed to last till about 8 30 the next day and very lovely it was too.
Do you know, I’d go there again. It was old-fashioned, comfortable and the cooking was very competent. It was un-flashy, the staff were extremely courteous and good-humoured and they seemed happy to be working there. It could do with a bit of a makeover, but then maybe it would become more popular and I wouldn’t be able to get in at short notice. Which has been the story of my life this week, about whch, more to follow.