French haute cuisine, the wellspring from which culinary magic seems to flow across the world, has been sidelined of late in favour of rusticity, simplicity and (let’s face it) dirty great burgers. But can the classics ever truly go out of style? Surely we all just need a gentle reminder of France’s culinary prowess? Well, as we near Bastille Day (14 July) Harden’s is here to champion champignons à l’ail, cry ‘confit de canard’ and promote pâtisserie…
These golden oldies have still got ‘it’…
Le Gavroche W1
“As relevant today as it ever was!” – M Roux Jr’s “timeless classic”, in Mayfair, won this year’s vote as “London’s finest gastronomic experience”; “the bill’s stratospheric, but so’s the performance!”, with “sublime” Gallic cuisine and magisterial “old school” service; “unbelievably good” set lunch (book months ahead).
Gauthier Soho W1
Alexis Gauthier’s “inspired” modern French cuisine goes from strength to strength, at his “quirky” and “faultlessly charming” Soho townhouse (where “ringing the doorbell to get in adds novelty”); “I can’t understand why they lost their Michelin star!”
Pied à Terre W1
“An outstanding restaurant, with a team in full song!”; David Moore’s “sophisticated” Fitzrovia fixture offers not just Marcus Eave’s “exquisite” cuisine, but also a “brilliant wine list (including some “great global discoveries”), and notably “discreet” and “friendly” service too.
A taste of France, without the price tag…
“So different, so fresh, so quirky” – this “cool” East End offshoot of the Terroirs empire has won renown with its “terrific, imaginative” food, its “brilliant selection of really interesting wines”, and its all-round “attention to detail”.
Charlotte’s Bistro W4
Fast becoming a “Chiswick staple”, this “buzzy brasserie” is inspiring ever-stronger support, thanks to its “well put-together ” food and its “friendly” service; kick off with a cocktail in the “stylish bar”.
Mill Lane Bistro NW6
“Simple, suitably French and consistently good” – all reports agree that this “lovely” West Hampstead spot “does what it says, and does it well too”.
Enjoy some Bastille Day events…
On the former St James’s site of L’Oranger (RIP), an elegant new French restaurant offering a straight-down-the-line comfort formula de luxe, of a type rarely found nowadays; it was already well into its swing on our early-days visit. A special Bastille Day menu at £37.50/head features fillet de morue rôtie, sauce vierge (roast cod); lapin à la moutarde (rabbit with mustard sauce) and tête de veau, sauce ravigote (calf’s head with tongue and brains).
This Soho “classic” is certainly well suited to a “delightful set lunch”, and it offers a “good-value pre-theatre menu” too; some reporters also tip it for romance or as a top foodie destination. Now in the hands of Brian Clivaz, L’Escargot reopened after an extensive refurb this year. Head to this bastion of old Soho on 14 July for a Bastille Day cocktail party 8.30pm-midnight.
“You know what you’ll get”, at these “cheek-by-jowl” Gallic bistros, whose “simple but very well executed” formula offers zero choice, just “classic steak/frites”, with secret sauce and salad (plus seconds); “fun” too… aside from the “horrific” queues and “impersonal” service. The offer will be 25 per cent off total bill from 15-31 July at the Canary Wharf branch.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet EC1
“Fans of Bruno Loubet’s “airy” Clerkenwell three-year-old still laud his creative “take on classic bistro cuisine”, all “at a non-astronomical price”; quite a few reports of late, however, suggest “the spirit has gone out of the place” – the strain of opening Grain Store, perhaps?” A special French menu for Bastille Day includes: moules marinière, sautéed frog legs, braised beef Provençal, crêpes suzette and Tarte Tatin.
The Refinery SE1
A large restaurant/bar behind the Tate Modern on Bankside, “particularly handy for culture vultures”. They’ll be showing the classic French film Belleville Rendez-Vous at 1pm this Bastille Day.
French newcomers to look out for…
Brasserie Gustave SW3
Opened 14 June
With Laurence Glayzer in the kitchen, formerly of The Ritz Hotel and The Arch, comes this new French spot in Chelsea; it’s apparently named after Gustave Eiffel, who we’re reliably informed once designed something in Paris.
Le Restaurant de Paul WC2
Opening 15 July
A French import that’s been pleasing Londoners with its pâtisserie and café au lait since 2000, Paul has unveiled plans for an all-day brasserie. This is the company’s first foray into full-on dining.
Big Fernand W1
Opening October 2014
High-end hamburgers are old hat by now – but unpasteurised cheese in your bun? Maybe it’s a game changer; this small French burger chain expands beyond Gallic shores into Fitzrovia.