Harden's survey result
“Just fab!”, say fans of this pair of “rather crammed” French bistros in Soho and Brick Lane offering “delightful and different dishes in a good atmosphere”. Served as small or sharing plates, the food is generally “interesting and imaginative”, and the “service friendly, if a tiny bit flaky at times”.
“Specialising in Gallic small plates, cheeses and charcuterie” plus dry-aged beef – and with “portions somewhere between tapas and a full plate” – this French-owned duo in Soho (2013) and Brick Lane (2016) have earned quite a culinary reputation, and – though “cramped” and “very noisy” – have a “fun atmosphere”. Although praised by their many fans as a “reliable” option, their ratings slipped this year, with various gripes about the tapas-y format: either that it’s “expensive”, “un-relaxing” or just “doesn’t suit this kind of French food”.
“You can imagine you have been whisked away to France”, particularly at the “noisy and boisterous” Soho original of this Gallic duo (which “looks like it’s been there for years, but is actually only three years old”), whose year-old East End sibling is also providing “a great addition to Brick Lane”. Founded on a traditional mix of “cheeses, cut meats and small plates”, the arrival of ex Bibendum chef Tam Storrar as chef/director seems to have taken the menu in a “more complicated and increasingly Mediterranean” direction.
“A touch of France in the centre of London” – this “buzzing” two-year-old “feels like it’s been in Soho for years” and is “an excellent place for the price”. “Traditional-ish Gallic dishes with a tapas twist” – “rustically presented and packed with flavour” – include “a good selection of regional French cheeses and charcuterie”. ‘Blanchette East’ opened in mid-August 2016 on east London’s curry mile, with a similar menu, but also new Southern French and North African dishes.
Handily sited in Soho, a small but jolly Gallic-run bistro, offering tasty dishes of high quality' but on a small-plate scale, with prices to match.
Small plates and good Gallic cooking: does that combination make this new Soho bistro of note? More than you'd think - it's a combination you don't find very often.
First, small plates. Fashionable Londoners may 'see it everywhere', but the small-plate vogue is pretty recent, and still mainly found either at 'fine dining' restaurants, or where the style is already a feature of an established national cuisine - such as tapas, dim sum, and sushi. Even the Terroirs 'group' - the best-known name in 'Gallic small plates' - mainly confines its daintier offerings to charcuterie, terrines and so on, rather than actual complete dishes.
And good Gallic cooking? Leaving out the many new brasseries that are more about looks than food, London's mid-range French offering remains remarkably thin. Just look at the excitement surrounding Otto's in Bloomsbury - 'just' a really nice bourgeois restaurant' of the sort there are vanishingly few examples across the capital.
So, perhaps this warm and friendly small-Gallic-plates bistro, in a short Soho street, is more revolutionary than its jolly and (calculatedly) rough-hewn appearance might suggest.
Our foodie friend was impressed by her grilled gurnard with brown butter, capers, lemon and braised lettuce, for example, and our braised lamb shoulder with anchovy, rosemary and soubise sauce was very good too. Note that these are what the French call plats complets, just on a small scale.
We can't really think of many other places in the West End that offer this winning formula - ideal for a quick meal before the theatre, or catching up with a friend. Even the smallest dishes - perhaps leeks vinaigrette with frisée and wild mushroom come with a bit more invention than you typically find for a fiver.
What more can we say? We'll be back.
Last orders: 11 pm, Sun 9 pm