Based on original content by Ben Norum.
Describing itself modestly as a 'small Alpine bistro in a shipping container', Alpes is a passion project from streetfood-mongers Raclette Brothers. And that shipping container might be small, but zut alors, does it pack in a lot of mountain richness. Prices look decent on paper, and prove doubly so when you realise dishes like the Raclette Jurrassienne (£8) should really be shared between two — sure, you could tackle the heap of potatoes, pickles, pancetta and melted cheese solo, but you'd need to go fast and hard to keep the raclette still hot and oozy throughout. Far better to split one and invest in some deep-fried olives stuffed with goat's cheese (£3.50) and a slab of tartiflette (£9). Well-chosen wines start at £20 a bottle. Formidable.
Alpes, Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ
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 façade, 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.
Andrew Edmunds, 46 Lexington Road, W1F 0LP
An on-trend, small plates bistro that has backing from the Salt Yard Group, Blanchette sits on a Soho side street. Bare brick walls and mismatched furniture add a slice of obligatory cool, while scatterings of homely knick-knacks 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.
Blanchette, 9 D'Arblay Street, W1F 8DR
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.
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, W1
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.
Casse Croûte, 109 Bermondsey Street
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.
Chez Elles, 45 Brick Lane, E1 6P
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 truffled mashed potato, and decadent chocolate puds. There’s no getting away from the fact that you do pay for the atmosphere, but there are some decent pre-theatre deals to be had.
Clos Maggiore, 33 King Street, WC2E 8JD
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.
Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, EC1A 9DS
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 of restaurants including Social Eating House, Berners Tavern and this small spot near 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.
Little Social, 5 Pollen Street, W1S 1NE
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 about £6.
Terroirs, 5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW
- Balthazar: Bustling Paris meets New York in Covent Garden.
- Brawn and Soif: Terroir’s sister sites in Hackney and Battersea.
- 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.
- Pierre Victoire: A small, candlelit Soho spot with a warm atmosphere and generous portions of French bistro dishes.