A Few Of London's Most Formidable French Restaurants

A Few Of London's Most Formidable French Restaurants
Image by Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly.

Things change fast in the time of coronavirus. Check on venue websites and social media ahead of visiting for the most up-to-date details.

Food trends come and go, but London's love of a classic French bistro or brass-clad grande brasserie endures. That might be why most of the places on this list are long-established favourites, rather than newcomers with the glisten of novelty about them — in a city that can be brutally fast at closing down hopeful new restaurants, candlelit French home-cooking and prix fixe menus seem to have a staying power that few other nations can claim.

Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly

Image by Lydia Manch.

For the hattrick — quality of food, loveliness of vibe, and the fact you don't need to financially cripple yourself to have a long, sprawling evening here — this is one of our favourite dinner-gig venues in London.

The huge dining room's a grande brasserie beauty — all high ceilings, gilded marble columns, and towering mirrors, with live (loud) jazz most evenings. Settle into the art deco interiors for two formidable courses of French classics for under £11, unpretentious and reliably good table wine by the carafe, and an evening listening to their house band playing 40s swing. Feels rowdy despite the distancing measures, romantic despite the rowdiness — and utterly escapist despite being in the middle of zone 1.

Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly

Blanchette, Soho

Image by Blanchette, Soho.

A small plates bistro with backing from the Salt Yard Group, Blanchette's all brick walls, mismatched furniture, and ornamental debris. That and a scattering of candlelight give it a relaxed warmth, and highlights of the menu include well-priced cheese and charcuterie, and a few French classics, reinterpreted as tapas-size dishes for sharing.

Blanchette, Soho

Balthazar, Covent Garden

Image by Balthazar, Covent Garden.

A Parisian brasserie filtered through New York swagger, Balthazar's good at the kind of decadence that always feels laidback and late-night, no matter what time it is. You know, sommeliers and tableside icebuckets and triple-stack seafood platters and waiters in three piece suits — but also couples leaning against the bar counter with crémant and rösti, and a menu where delicate seafood dishes and carpaccios and rock oysters jostle with mac and cheese and truffle mash and burgers. Ceiling fans spin lazily overhead, French electronica or jazz drums or percussive disco beat gently in the background, diners might have a slow dance in the aisles now and then, and it gets very very late without you realising. A lot of fun, basically.

Balthazar, Covent Garden

Casse-Croûte, London Bridge

French au maximum, Casse Croûte's a small wine bar meets restaurant on Bermondsey Street, doing simple stuff well, and making it look effortless. The menu's short compared to the (all French) wine list, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the food's just a sidebar. But the daily changing dishes are well-sourced, well-cooked, rich but not like you've been smited by it (see the tartiflette at Pierre Victoire, below, if you're in the market for smiting) — just good, trad, bistro-in-a-small-market-town food. They're also the team behind Pique-Nique nearby, which we've not checked out ourselves but the bruit qui court is that it's also stellar.

Casse-Croûte, London Bridge

Andrew Edmunds, Soho

Image by Andrew Edmunds, Soho.

This French-if-you-squint restaurant has been around since 1986, serving European-meets-British classics at decentish prices. The food swoops around nations, but we're keeping it on the list for the brasserie classics that make up the backbone of the daily changing menu — crab terrine, confit duck, carefully cooked steaks — and the prevailingly French wine list. Small, cosy, and with candles perched everywhere, the intimacy of the venue is one of the loveliest things about it — that and its tourist-busting, tucked-away façade make it feel like a moodily lit secret. But a well-known secret, so book in advance.

Andrew Edmunds, Soho

Royale, Bethnal Green

Royale, Bethnal Green. Image by Joe Woodhouse.

A Provençal homecooking and rotisserie chicken mash up from the people behind Leroy in Shoreditch, Royale's an unfussy, bare-walls space with the smell of pistou and caramelised onions and aioli lacing through the room.

They're also London Living Wage employers, and part of the #serviceincluded movement, aimed at disrupting the industry's reliance on the tronc system (used by the majority of hospitality venues, to pool and redistribute tips and service charges, with huge scope for abuse and underpayment of staff). Which would be a nice reason to eat there even if the food weren't lovely, but luckily? It is.

Royale, Bethnal Green

Claude Bosi at Bibendum, Chelsea

Claude Bosi at Bibendum. Image by Will Noble.

The grande dame of London's old-school French restaurants, with some very grande price tags to match, Bibendum — under the tender touch of Claude Bosi for five years now — swerves the stuffiness that usually comes with pristinely starched tablecloths and astronomical pricing. If you're eating in the restaurant, your options are all set menus and start at about £145 a head, but you can get most of the same grandeur and a phenomenal steak tartare (£18) in the oyster bar for a lot less.

Claude Bosi at Bibendum, Chelsea

Chez Elles Bistroquet, Brick Lane

Feel like revelling in some unashamed clichés? Chez Elles to the rescue, with its Amélie colour palette, poster-hung walls, straight-outta-Montmartre quasi-patio furniture, and menu of Gallic classics. Hitting all the Parisian-holiday notes — tartare, confit, terrines, moules-frites — the cheerful Brick Lane bistro's small, busy and beloved. Drop by between 6pm and 7pm for the IYKYK aperitif hour.

Chez Elles Bistroquet, Brick Lane

Pierre Victoire, Soho

Image by Pierre Victoire, Soho.

Sister venue to (the also small, also sexily lit) Prix Fixe just up the road, there's not much to choose between the two. Both are low-cost, high-warmth, and constantly busy, both serve up a very French line in ferociously rich comfort food, and both have some of the best escargots (ie the most garlic, the most butter) we know of in London. If you're ordering the tartiflette (and you should), we advise undoing your belt and settling in for the evening. Pierre Victoire's an ultramarathon, not a sprint.

Pierre Victoire, Soho.

Honourable mention

Baranis, the City: A bar rather than a restaurant, but with some Provençal-slanted stomach lining on the menu — mostly pissaladière, panisse, and other stuff you can eat with your fingers while gently thrashing the competition on (the real attraction) a little basement pétanque court.

Mon Plaisir, Covent Garden: 'The entente cordiale hits you as you enter', promises the website. Cheerful clutter, trad French dishes at decent prices, and a swathe of evangelical broadsheet reviews suggest it'll be ton plaisir.

Bistrotheque, Bethnal Green: Heard skyhigh praise, just haven't made it there yet. £25 for three courses, a seductive looking tartare on the website, and a very alluringly high pickle presence on the menu.

Last Updated 17 January 2022