It has been totally unsung in recent times, but Franco’s is one of the veterans of the London restaurant scene. Founded as Frank’s in 1946, its heritage puts in in the same vintage as better-known ‘period’ destinations such as Covent Garden’s Mon Plaisir. Such period charm as there may ever have been, however, was swept away by a mid- ’80s revamp, and no guide book of recent years has even bothered to notice that the place exists.
The bright and contemporary look the place has recently acquired, however, is evidence of a new and vigorous broom. It turns out that the place has recently come into the ownership of the Hambro family, who acquired neighbouring establishment-favourite Wiltons (which they still own) at pretty much the same time as Frank’s was first launched into the world.
Banking dynasties tends to invest for the longer term. The now U-shaped, Franco’s premises – entered through a bar/café – has been given an unusually expensive and sophisticated makeover: think Cipriani meets Cecconi’s. The staff – mainly Italian – are pretty smartly turned out too.
Wilton’s is famously a favourite of clubland types who don’t like their food messed about with. The cooking here – though not without interest – similarly does not try too hard. Dishes sampled included a squid salad, mushroom risotto special, venison with polenta, a tiramisu and a rhubarb tart. As next door, true highlights are a rarity, but everything was very enjoyable.
Judging by the crowd of older pinstripes and their chic companions, the new Franco’s has already been enthusiastically adopted by the locals, so it presumably can’t be too long before the infamous Wilton’s pricing takes hold here. Hurry along, then, if you want to enjoy what is currently some of the best value dining the West End has to offer.