London’s Best French Food
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words: Joanne Gould
London does classic French food really well, so, crack out your best Breton striped top and raise a glass to our cross-channel contemporaries with some spectacular Bresse chicken, ridiculously rich chocolate mousse, and more croque monsieur and charcuterie than you can shake a stick at. We’ve rounded up twelve of our favourite places to munch on French food. Cin cin!
La Creperie de Hampstead
The large French population of NW3 means there’s a decent amount of French grub available in and around Hampstead. In particular, you really shouldn’t make the trip up on the Northern line without a stop at La Creperie for a restorative Parisian-style crepe.
Simply sold out of a little trailer next to the King William IV pub, you’ll spot it easily thanks to the near-constant queue. They serve up both sweet and savoury varieties of the famous French pancake to take away, and the fact they’ve been there since 1980 should tell you how good they are. (Oh, and locals Kate Moss and Harry Styles are fans).
Choose from veggie-fillings like mushroom and tarragon cream and asparagus with cheese, or perhaps the more ‘adventurous’ ratatouille and tandoori mix. You’ll also find crème de marrons, banana maple cream dream with Cointreau and the standard chocolate variants. A long-running row with the pub landlady means opening hours are reduced now, so do check before venturing up.
La Creperie de Hampstead, 77a Hampstead High Street, NW3 1RE
City workers, you’re in luck. Former pop-up artists Yolk have a nice new home in Broadgate and they are churning out some of the tastiest takeaway egg-based dishes we know. For breakfast, grab their signature eggs Benedict pot (ham hock, poached Burford Browns, hollandaise, cayenne).
Then, come back at lunch for a steak bearnaise sandwich of medium-rare bavette, brown butter béarnaise, caramelised balsamic onion and rocket in hot ciabatta, or their duck bun, which is pulled confit duck, duck skin crackling, smoked aioli, caramelised balsamic onion and rocket on demi brioche.
Yolk, Unit 4, Finsbury Avenue Square, EC2M 2PG
Comptoir Café and Wine
Comptoir Café and Wine is the newest follow up to the much-celebrated Blandford Comptoir. While the original is Mediterranean and largely Italian is its leanings, the latest and littlest of the pair focuses on restaurateur Xavier Rousset’s native France.
The emphasis here is mainly on the wine, actually; there are three and a half pages of the list devoted to Champagne alone. Open all day, Comptoir is available for your Benedicts and viennoiserie needs before moving onto the menu proper, where you can enjoy a croque monsieur, tart of the day, steak tartare and duck confit – plus some brilliant cheese. It’s very easy to stay here all night.
Comptoir Café and Wine, 21-22 Weighhouse Street, W1K 5LY
La Poule au Pot
Over in Belgravia, you’ll find La Poule au Pot, a rustic, romantic French restaurant that has stood on the same spot for almost sixty years. With pavement tables aplenty (still with crisp linen covers, mind) and a lovely terrace to enjoy, it’s a great shout for a lazy sunny lunch, or head inside for dimly lit atmospheric nooks and crannies later in the evening.
The menu reads like a Francophile’s dream: escargot, coq au vin, goose cassoulet and tarte tatin, and you’ll find them all finely cooked and generously portioned. Wines are – of course – all French, and are divided into regions for ease.
If pastis is what you’re after then, happily, the bar team has created three pastis-based cocktails. Tomato (pastis with grenadine), Perroquet, (a mixture of pastis and mint syrup) and and Maureque (a blend of pastis and orgeat).
La Poule au Pot, 231 Ebury Street, SW1W 8UT
Another great entry to the ever-increasing Bermondsey eating scene is this offspring of Casse Croute, with the same head chef. Pique Nique opened opposite the original venue and has won the hearts and minds of critics already.
It’s overtly French, as you’d hope, and much of it is poule focussed, particularly on the beautiful Bresse chicken, a gourmet speciality of the Eastern French region. The rotisserie is going all day to great effect.
That’s why most people come, but there are also other comforting options like entrecote, souffles and pigeon to be had and the pate en croute (spiced pork pate expertly wrapped in pastry) is show-stopping.
Pique Nique, Tanner Street Park, SE1 3LD
This restaurant, dining room and wine bar in the twinkly basement of Shoreditch’s Boundary Hotel is host to chef Stéphane Reynaud (he’s kind of a big deal across the Channel) and his recently launched restaurant, Tratra.
Reynaud is from the Ardeche region, and this is evident from the meat and charcuterie-heavy menu. You’ll find a whole saucisson sec, no less than six meat terrines, and sharers like lamb shoulder and suckling pig – all of it traditionally French but with a modern twist.
On Bastille Day, they celebrate with the launch of a new menu that revolves around the idea of ‘mise en bouche’, meaning dishes to enjoy before a meal. Feast on three hors d’oeuvres and three matching fine wines; dishes are seasonal and determined by what is available in the kitchen that day.
Tratra, 2-4 Boundary Street, E2 7DD (entrance on Redchurch Street)
If a touch of French decadence is what you’re after, you need to get down to Bon Vivant, stat. We’d head there for a date any day of the week thanks to their lush, velvet tub chairs, millennial pink walls and all the usual bare brick and dusky lighting.
The indulgent menu is as French as they come with dishes like magret de canard, terrine de foie gras and tagliatelle aux truffes. Bring them all to us now, please.
There’s a bottomless brunch, which we always like to see, and for Bastille and they go into full-on party mode with a complimentary glass of rosé for guests who arrive in a Breton striped shirt.
Typically continental desserts like crème brûlée, clafoutis and glace come out at the end of the night, and you can swig Provence rosés, Kir Royales and lush Ricard throughout.
Bon Vivant, 75-77 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AP
Sure, from the outside it looks like a pub – though a spectacularly pretty one at that – but actually, this Tudor beamed building is home to a pretty swanky wine bar and dining room. And swanky it should be; it’s owned by Alexandra Petit aka the daughter of the owner of Chateau Margaux, and restaurant consultant Natsuka Perromat du Marais who boasts ten years experience at Alain Ducasse.
The menu of twists on French favourites (ham and cheese croque brioche, Frenchy mac, cheese and ham, braised octopus with olives, tomatoes and capers) will deliver before you even get onto the accomplished wine list.
We’ll be making our way through most of it as there are some nice little numbers by the glass that won’t ruin your bank balance – a nice surprise in moneyed Marylebone.
Clarette, 44 Blandford Street, W1U 7750
La Bonne Bouffe
In early 2017 the La Bonne Bouffe landed in south London. Relaxed, chic and channelling some intimate Provencal café vibes crossed with a dash of Parisian swish thanks to the white tablecloths and low lighting, La Bonne Bouffe is a welcome addition to the gentrified streets of East Dulwich.
Bistro classics are the thing here, with all the big names like confit de canard, moules marinieres, and chevre chaud, plus terrific fines de Claire oysters and every tart we’re interested in: au chocolat, au citron, tatin. If this was our neighbourhood restaurant, we’d be thrilled.
La Bonne Bouffe, 49 North Cross Road, SE22 9ET
Petit Pois could easily convince you that you’re actually in France thanks to the banquette seating, bijou tables and general cosiness, which all adds up to a certain je ne sais quois.
Here, you’re looking at all the clichéd classics: chicken liver parfait, tartare, pissaladiere, duck confit and bouillabaisse, which make up the majority of this short menu. Don’t let the low-ish prices kid you into thinking these will be hackneyed half-arsed attempts though – everything we’ve ever eaten at Petit Pois has been plate-licking good.
Ingredients are well sourced, properly seasoned and interesting enough without being fussed about with. Finish with a massive dollop of super-rich chocolate mousse served with great ceremony from a giant Perspex bowl. Tremendous.
Petit Pois, 9 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU
Galvin Bistrot de Luxe
The Galvin brothers’ talents have spread far and wide since their original bistrot in Baker Street, but despite the Michelin stars for Windows, La Chapelle et. al., there’s still a lot of love for this properly vibrant restaurant. The fact it’s inspired by the traditional bistrot modernes of Paris means it’s informal but still polished.
The Galvin name means that the seasonally inspired classically French menu never puts a foot wrong. We can’t recommend the lasagne of Dorset crab enough; it’s not a French dish per se, but the cooking here is classic French, so we’re saying it counts.
Galvin Bistro de Luxe, 66 Baker Street, W1U 7DJ
L’Escargot is London’s oldest and – possibly – most celebrated French restaurant. Since 1927, it’s been a landmark in its tall, storeyed Georgian townhouse setting. In fact, the building dates from 1741. The name originates from L’Escargot’s most famous owner and his love of snails, and a plaster bust of him riding a snail is still displayed outside.
Since then, a line-up of famed French restaurateurs and patrons has taken the tiller – notably including Marco Pierre White. Today, the big guns are involved and Brian Clivaz (Arts Club, Home House, Langans) and chef Oliver Lesnik (The Connaught, Angela Hartnett) has transformed this once-tired French Soho institution into a shiny, destination restaurant after a 2014 revamp.
You’ll see recognisably Gallic dishes like lobster bisque, salade nicoise and coq au vin, but things are taken up several notches from your normal bistro or brasserie fare and every dish is out to impress. The a la carte isn’t cheap but there are many set menus and pre-theatre deals if you don’t want to splash out.
L’Escargot, 48 Greek Street, W1D 4EF