France may only be across the Channel, but London is blessed with many bars and restaurants serving up authentic French fare. Covent Garden is particularly rich with them, from grand brasseries, to bistros and cafés specialising in regional cuisine. Here’s our pick of the best.
A Manhattan institution, Balthazar came across the pond in 2013 and was a big hit with the Covent Garden crowd. The interiors, plush with red leather and mirrors are the same as the NYC original, as is the brasserie style of food. You can get everything from continental breakfast to bistro classics like steak tartare, moules frites and duck confit, with a dedicated boulangerie next door for when you need a Balthazar hit on the move.
With a name like Frenchie you can be under no illusions as to the type of food you’re going to find coming out from this kitchen. Although a French (though a modern one with global influences) restaurant, Frenchie actually refers to chef Gregory Marchand who earned the nickname during his time cooking at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. The Covent Garden site is sister to the Parisian outposts of Frenchie, with similar dishes but a strong showing of British ingredients, so duck foie gras is paired with Yorkshire rhubarb and Cornish wild sea bass is served with anchoïade.
Le Garrick has been going strong for thirty years and still remains popular with the theatre crowd, for it has unfussy but well executed regional French food, strong French wine and a friendly atmosphere. They have pre-theatre dining down to a fine art but the basement, with its candlelit alcoves, is the place to dine when on a date.
Inspired by tapas and sushi restaurants, Joël Robuchon was one of the first chefs to combine counter dining with high-end food in London. All three levels of this place are sleek and stylish – there’s a lot of red and black – without feeling stuffy and they have taken great care to appeal to a range of budgets with a variety of menus. For the true Joël Robuchon experience (and for the most out-and-out French dishes) it has to be the eight-course tasting Le Menu Découverte. There are twelve outposts of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon around the world from Las Vegas to Tokyo and there seems to be no stopping this most decorated chef.
Set just off the main piazza, Palm Court Brasserie brings a slice of Paris to Covent Garden. The 1920s-style art nouveau décor is a fine imitation of a proper French bistro and there are plenty of traditional dishes, like Toulouse cassoulet, French onion soup and coq au vin on the French Classics section of the menu, adding another level of authenticity to the Palm Court experience.
Mon Plaisir is London’s oldest French restaurant, having welcomed customers for over half a century. The place is full of French art and objects, with the original 1940s-themed dining room and pewter-topped bar that previously stood in a Lyonnais brothel taking pride of place. The a la carte menu is a celebration of traditional French fare and the wine list is packed with French varieties.
Which is the most romantic restaurant in London? It’s pretty hard to top Clos Maggiore, thanks to that flower-filled conservatory. The beautiful blossomed room, which is enhanced by candlelight come night time, is undoubtedly the draw of this place but the Provencal cooking and impressive wine list – over one hundred pages long with bottles from four centuries – match the extravagant setting.
Cosy café Chez Antoinette specialises in tartines – French open-face sandwiches – inspired by the food that the owner Aurelia Delclos’ grandmother used to prepare in Lyon. The menu features many Lyonnais ingredients, like duck rillettes and Brie de Meaux, as well as salads and homemade desserts, including a range of sweet tartines. The personal touch extends to the café’s décor, as every piece of the furniture was handpicked by Aurelia to evoke those memories of her childhood.
PAUL is best known as a chain of café-bakeries, but there are also two London restaurants in the family and the flagship one is in Covent Garden. Le Restaurant De PAUL serves an all-day menu with booze and of course, there’s plenty of patisserie to choose from too.
It’s not difficult to work out what the specialties of the house are at this place. Yes, Champagne + Fromage is the place to come for bubbles and cheese. The champagne comes courtesy of artisanal champagne collection French Bubbles and the cheese, charcuterie and preserves are provided by Une Normande à Londres. You can eat baked specials, cheese and meat boards and drink fizz in the bistro or buy produce to take home.
Serving up crêpes and cider, Mamie’s is a Breton establishment through and through. It houses London’s first Cidrothèque – a dedicated cider bar – with galettes and crêpes available on the top two floors. They range from simple egg, ham and Emmental galettes and lemon and sugar crêpes, to indulgent flambéed and cream covered creations. They have no problem with a bit of customisation.
Café Monico comes from the Soho House group, which has created an updated version of the original 1877 restaurant that stood nearby. It’s all rather grand, with high ceilings, marble flooring and oak panelling, with the brasserie-style menu drawing influence from Italy as well as classic French flavours, so you will find salumi and veal Milanese listed alongside moules frites and chicken palliard. The bar also stocks a strong range of vermouth, so it’s also a great place to enjoy a smart cocktail.
Le Beaujolais is the oldest French wine bar in town and is famous for its rustic French food and exclusively French wine list. It’s an intimate and convivial bar, with simple plates like boeuf bourguignon, pate and cheese on offer and many of the wines are available by the glass. There’s also a restaurant downstairs but it’s members only and has been since 1972.