Welcome to a series of articles rounding-up the very best restaurants in London for specific cuisines. We’re not talking authenticity here, rather the kind of food we really love to eat. Value is kept firmly in mind, and most of our picks represent this. On the flip side, of course, some places are so good that they are worth saving up for. As ever, please do let us know your thoughts and other recommendations in the comments below.
A Soho classic, this French-meets-European-meets-British restaurant has been around since 1986, serving inexpensive brasserie classics. Small, closely-packed and almost entirely lit by candles, the intimacy of the venue is one of its biggest strengths — that and its tourist-busting tucked-away facade, which leaves it squarely for those in the know. Dressed crab, duck breast and carefully cooked steaks are regulars on a daily-changing menu that, while far from dynamic, almost never fails to impress.
This London outpost for three Michelin-starred French-born, New York-based chef Daniel Boulud sits within plush Knightsbridge hotel the Mandarin Oriental. It comes in at good value given its location, with a meal under £40 a head so long as you don’t get carried away with wine — and considering the quality of cooking, hearty portions and pleasing Parisian buzz, it’s a smart choice for somewhere special but not too spendy. The repertoire includes francophile classics such as coq a vin, terrines and plenty of foie gras alongside its signature mini-burger (topped with foie gras) and a good line in steaks.
An on-trend small plates bistro that has backing from the Salt Yard Group, Blanchette opened late last year on a Soho side street. Bare brick walls and mismatched furniture add a slice of obligatory cool, while scatterings of homely nic-nacs help add warmth to the space. Highlights of the menu include well-priced cheese and charcuterie offerings as well the opportunity to mix and match several French dishes, tapas-style. Read our full review of the restaurant from shortly after its opening here — on a recent return visit, we feel it’s considerably tightened its act and is very deserving of inclusion in this list.
Among the best value for money restaurants in the capital, punters flock to this vast Piccadilly Circus restaurant for great pre-theatre deals and everyday low prices on classic dishes inspired by the pavements of Paris. Served in bustling, grand surrounds, steak frites, confit duck, steak tartare, snails and all the classics are present and correct and up there with the best and most authentic casual French food this side of the Eurostar. Slick, friendly service is probably the only inauthentic part of the Parisian experience.
Of all the restaurants in the list, it’s possible that Casse Croûte is the most French. A small wine bar turned restaurant on Bermondsey Street, the successful formula here is to keep things simple and do them well, with a short daily-changing menu of home-cooked French classics on hand as if only really to accompany a notably good value all-French wine list. But the dishes are much better than that would suggest: well-sourced, well-cooked and utterly, effortlessly delicious in the way that only truly foodie countries can manage. Read our full review of Casse Croûte from late last year.
This brightly coloured bistro on Brick Lane ticks just about every stereotype box, from poster-clad walls, candles and the kind of furniture that looks as if it might belong on a patio, through to a menu of unashamed clichés. From tartare to confit via terrines, moules and escargot, Chez Elles serves exactly what people want at very decent prices, taking itself with far too little seriousness to feel French at all. Bravo.
This long-standing Covent Garden favourite is said to be London’s most romantic restaurant. In fact, we’ve been told by the staff that they have an average of three proposals there a week…and most of the time the answer is ‘yes’. It’s the combination of dark wood, cosy alcoves, an open fire and a glass ceiling that gives a view of the stars which does the trick, but carefully created classic French food certainly does its bit, too. Expect old school bistro-style dishes decked out with particularly luxurious ingredients, such as confit duck with foie gras or chicken breasts with truffled mashed potato, and decadent chocolate puds. There’s no getting away from the fact that you do pay for the atmosphere, but if you can nab yourself a pre-theatre deal then three courses and half a bottle of wine are a bargainous £26.50.
Taking south-west France as its focus, this Smithfield restaurant presents simply-cooked and well-sourced meat and fish with creative vegetable accompaniments and sauces. Try such dishes as duck ‘chocobar’ with gingerbread and ‘crazy salt’, or aromatic razor clams with hay emulsion and truffle vinaigrette to see just how creative it can get. Oh, and in case you had trouble evoking those feelings of rural France, the decadent dining room plays out the sound of crickets to help you on your way.
Galvin La Chapelle
Our favourite of a set of seven London restaurants from the Galvin brothers, this laid-back but firmly luxurious brasserie is set in a magnificent former church just off Old Spitalfields Market. In these grand 100ft-ceilinged surrounds, the kitchen produces food that’s nowhere near as showy, but pretty special all the same. Confit duck, steak tartare and foie gras terrine are all present and correct on a menu that might be resolutely old fashioned yet is brought to fresh, modern life on the plate — a little like the carefully converted church building, complete with mezzanine.
Chef Jason Atherton can do no wrong at the moment. The one-time Ramsay protégé won over London with Pollen Street Social and now has a mini-empire including Social Eating House, Berners Tavern, soon-to-launch City Social and this itsy spot just off Regent Street. Here, Atherton has created a menu of French bistro classics with modern — and often British — twists. Think Cornish cod with cockles, terrine with smoked duck, ox cheeks with bone marrow, or a cottage pie ‘Bourguignon’. The look is pure Paris, with leather banquette seating, a long copper bar and walls decked in arty advertising posters.
Less shiny Parisian bistro and more rustic rural French eatery, this bar and restaurant just off Trafalgar Square specialises in low-intervention natural wines, and food to match. Come for a glass, a bottle and some small plates or a full-blown meal and enjoy the likes of cured meats and cheeses, rich fish soups and unctuous rillettes. If you want to get carried away with wine, then you’re in the right place; if not, starting prices for a glass are around a fiver.
Balthazar: Bustling Paris meets New York in Covent Garden.
Brawn, Green Man French Horn and Soif: Terroir’s sister sites in Hackney, Covent Garden and Battersea.
Boundary: Sturdy bistro classics served with modern flare just off Shoreditch High Street.
Garnier: Classy and classic Earl’s Court Bistro.
The Ledbury: A two-Michelin-starred slice of finery in Notting Hill. The only reason we haven’t included it more prominently in this list is that although it has strong French influences, the overall effect is a British meets modern European menu rather than a full French experience.
Le Gavroche: Fine dining French at its most classic and well-executed. This restaurant run by Michel Roux Jnr was the very first place in London to get a Michelin star back in 1967. Pricey but worth it.
Les Deux Salon: A big, busy and well-priced brasserie in the heart of Theatreland.
Mon Plaisir: London’s oldest French restaurant, an upmarket bistro in Covent Garden.