Recommended French Restaurants in London
THE first and best fine cooking in London was French, back a couple of hundred years. Lately, it’s been displaced by what’s known as “modern British” (though Gordon Ramsay and several other chefs here trained in France, and most chefs still talk in kitchen French when describing food and technique). The rise of good Italian restaurants, and the arrival of other cuisines, have cut into the supremacy of French cooking somewhat, but it’s still terrific when it’s good, still like coming home. (Available websites are at the end of the listings.)
LE GAVROCHE Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street, London W1K 7QR. Tel: +44 (0)20 7408 0881. Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, and dinner Saturday Nearest tube: Marble Arch Nearest attractions: Oxford St., Selfridge’s, Hyde Park
LE GAVROCHEAs befits London’s best French restaurant, Le Gavroche is self-confidently genteel (softly dark green walls, large colorful paintings, silver table settings and decorations), and truly hospitable. The solicitude and attention to detail runs through every aspect of the meal, achieving a precise, high standard of service and cooking. The restaurant is in its 38th year and second generation, with Michel Roux, Jr. still turning out elegant, lightly modernized renditions of classic French cooking: his coquille St. Jacques is perfumed with ginger, and the lobster fricassee comes with a rich pasta. Michel’s current favorite? “Saddle of rabbit with galette au parmesan [rich cheese pancakes], delicate yet gutsy, pleasing to the eye and the palate, a perfect foil for a great wine.” With an well-chosen, encyclopedic wine list built up over nearly four decades, the only problem would be choosing just one.
Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street, London W1K 7QR. Tel: +44 (0)20 7408 0881.
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, and dinner Saturday
Nearest tube: Marble Arch
Nearest attractions: Oxford St., Selfridge’s, Hyde Park
This informal but pleasantly sedate old-timer serves a kind of Sunday-dinner French cuisine that’s increasingly rare, quite marvelous, quietly elegant in its simplicity. Dinner is served, efficiently and smoothly, from an early hour so diners can walk to the National Theater, Festival Hall, or National Film Theater on time for a performance, but RSJ is deservedly a destination on its own. Start with roulade of duck and foie gras, or poached smoked haddock (aka finan haddie) with horseradish, baby beets, and a soft poached egg, and move on to excellent calf’s liver, poached sea trout with dill and caviar, or pan-fried red mullet with pernod vinaigrette. There are quite a few good desserts. RSJ specializes in the light and lovely wines of the Loire Valley, more than 200 of them—Vouvray, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Chinon, and Bourgueil, among others, from the likes of Huet, Dageaneau, Ogereau and many others, dry or deliciously sweet, all reasonably priced. The wine list is very well annotated, and staff are extremely helpful.
RSJ, 33 Coin Street, London SE1 9NR. Tel: +44 (0)20 7928-4554
Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner (from 5:30 p.m. onward) Monday-Saturday
Nearest Tube: Waterloo
Nearby Attractions: South Bank Center (theaters and galleries), London Eye
Club Gascon is a Francophile’s dream and one of London’s hottest restaurants. It’s as if a first-rate bistro with talented cooks had been transplanted intact from Gascony, the land of duck, foie gras, Armagnac and D’Artagnan. Best bet is to graze a long menu of small plates at moderate prices, things like spicy paté, foie gras flan, cassoulet, piperade, delicious chips fried in duck fat, veal sweetbreads in dense sauce, or smoked eel with horseradish cream. Best of the wine list is regional too, from Cahors, Madiran, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh–assertive reds and lightly tangy whites, straightforward wines mostly under £30, suited to the hearty food.
Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9DS. Tel: +44 (0)20 7796 0600.
Open Monday-Friday for lunch, Monday-Saturday for dinner
Nearest Tube: Barbican
Nearby Attractions: Barbican Centre