N.A.C. Qu’est-ce que c’est?
I kept getting the name wrong, before I worked out that it stood for North Audley Cantine. Not canteen, nor cantina, just cantine. It’s French.
I’d been here when it opened and we were the only people eating. Then it was all sharing plates and I remember it being a little confusing; they just seemed to be serving three-quarter sized versions of conventional dishes. But I’d remembered that it was well-prepared and I’d been meaning to come back. Like a few places along North Audley Street, they have tables outside for you to while away the afternoon, if you like that sort of thing.
Eight months on and it’s still here, though I worry for them. According to my extensive searches, also known as Google search, this is a venture dreamt up by childhood friends in their mid-twenties. MID-twenties for pity’s sake. I was an articled clerk, frightened of my own shadow. Open a business? I’d more likely have thrown a custard pie in my boss’s face. And the property lawyer in me, never entirely absent, worrying about compliance and planning permission and listed building regs, as she does, is thinking about the rents not to mention the rates and unless it gets busier, it’s going to be costing someone a tidy sum to keep paying those Mayfair bills.
It is a café and a restaurant and a bar and a private mezzanine area. Three floors with that mezz area at the back. Whitewashed walls and funky non-Mayfair-style metal light fittings, the ground floor is all hard-edged bistro-moderne, whilst the basement is all leather sofas and bar. Oddness. You get no sense of the bar from the main restaurant which is a shame, as I’d have been using it before now. NoMa. What I have called the little bit of North Mayfair in which I work, in my pathetic attempt to make it into a happening area. Unless you want a pub or an overpriced hotel bar, there isn’t much choice for a reasonably-priced drink in this neck of the woods.
Out for a working lunch with the other half of what my work partner J lovingly refers to as the Axis, we wanted something other than the very tired Fino’s and the very basic Cardinal’s, which, between them, function as my firm’s staff canteen.
The menu suggests sharing plates, but I’d ignore that because they certainly seem to. Having said that, we shared a generous charcuterie and cheese plate to start and after we’d had an extra portion of delicious Dabbous-clone bread-in-a-bag (they offered – it would have been rude not to), we were fairly full.
So I confess that I struggled with the two large slabs of Veal Milanese and a side of truffled mac and cheese which, although entirely unnecessary, was entirely gorgeous. It wasn’t the usual cloying, overly-rich concoction but altogether lighter, with a slight sharpness to the cheese, which lifted it from mere comfort food to something more interesting. I think it might have been prepared with crème fraîche, rather than double cream. I might have to try it again purely for research purposes of course.
The other half of the Axis had Cajun chicken. Again, a large portion for something purporting to be a sharing plate and a little too heavy-handed on the Cajun spicing but not bad value at all. Never let it be said that I complain about a dish being too large.
We toyed for a nanosecond with the ideas of dessert but settled for (decent) coffee. We were rather amused that the milk came out of a cow’s mouth. There are so many possible spins on that phrase that I will leave you to insert your own witticism at this point. And milk pouring out of its mouth ? Not entirely authentic but probably preferable to the anatomically correct version.
Will I come back a third time? Probably, given the dearth of reasonably-priced places to eat in this area, but I won’t be rushing. They haven’t quite worked out who they are and in trying to appeal to everyone (those rents) they don’t really have a clear identity. Qu’est-ce que c’est? I’m not entirely sure.