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Le Cafe Anglais


naebody
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www.lecafeanglais.co.uk.

Anyone been yet? Passed by on Sunday (they were closed). Very big place, tricked out like a Paris cafe that's been stuck incongruously in the corner of a food court at the top of Whitleys shopping centre, Bayswater Road. Quite a long, bistro menu, priced ambitiously for the location (mains averaging around £22). They were in soft opening and offering 50% off food, although I don't know how long that will last.

Edited by naebody (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

It sounds like she absolutely loves it!

In short, this is, without doubt, the best, best, best and most exciting restaurant to open in London for a very long time. It marries affordable glamour with soulful élan, charming service and the kind of food everyone wants to eat. Across town there are many talented kitchens pushing the boundaries of haute cuisine and doing interesting things with foam. There is a place for those eager young chefs, with their enoki necks and bad skin, being hothoused in basement kitchens like a crop of wan mushrooms. Yet in the final reckoning, the person who you really want to cook for you is someone who’s lived a little and read a book. Someone who has been buffeted by the storms of life, and who understands the incalculable benefits of a good, hot meal on a ruptured soul. And at last, we have the right man in charge of the right kitchen in a restaurant that we all deserve.

I remember going to Kensington Place shortly after it opened and being astounded at how good and 'cool' it was. Looks like Rowley Leigh hasn't lost his touch.

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I had lunch there yesterday after a meeting was cancelled at the last minute (actually, it was cancelled 50 minutes after it was due to start, but that's chefs for you). I hadn't booked and was seated immeadiately - not surprising as they have 175 of the buggers to fill. Pike boudin with beurre blanc is The Greatest Dish in London - well, it probably isn't but it was so wonderful to eat that it felt like it at the time.

Roast mallard came with a simple orange, parsley, red onion and olive salad that was absolutley appropriate and very delicious. A side order of potato and cep gratin was less luxurious than it should have been - not enough ceps and the potato was a bit dry and floury, it screamed out for some cream.

Service was a bit um, chaotic, but very hospitable and friendly and, as they were discounting the food by 50% (nearly, the discount was wrongly calculated but I didn't realise until I was on the tube) I didn't mind too much.

Beautiful room, great atmosphere, Rowley Leigh at the pass - fantastic.

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I hope to visit soon. It is a great carte-oddly, remarkabbly similar to what you would have seen in the large eating houses and grand hotels of the seventies. I'm sure the cooking is better-and I think this is what adult palates want to eat, really.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Lunch today.

Great. Wonderful. Deee-licious. Just what Sunday lunch should be: with good friends, beautifully designed surroundings and a cream-laden sherry trifle to finish.

I allowed my husband to have the pike boudin, which means we must return soon so I can have it. Other reviewers have described it far better than I could: it (from the one forkful I was allowed) is smooth yet textured, fishy but not pike-y. Wonderful.

The odd thing is, there is a panoply of hor-d'ouvres and starters, quite a few fish dishes (OH had the whiting with mini-shrimp in a marsala sauce, which was OK) but, by comparison, not that many mains. This lunchtime there was chicken, beef, lamb, partridge and woodcock. Friends had beef (w/roast potatoes and yorkshire pudding) and lamb (with beans), neither of which I was allowed to taste, so I presume they were satisfactory. The spinach was pronounced 'excellent' and the chips were good, but rather frite-ish, perhaps as a nod to the Macdonalds it replaces. The partridge was beautifully roasted but I think a grey leg (menu just said French, and I'm not enough of an expert to know what colour legs they have in France) and probably not as flavoursome as the woodcock, which I shall have next time ...

Wine: very good Prosecco to start and a smooth, fruity Barbera d'Alba 2001 (£45) to go with all the meats. Service on-the-ball, friendly to the point of talkative, and clearly having a good time. As was everyone else in the room.

The colour of the banquettes is eau-de-nil, for those who may be interested in refreshing their drawing rooms.

We will be back .. before the woodcock season closes.

Sarah

Sarah

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was also there for lunch yesterday and agree with the observation that there are far more hors d'ouvres/starters tahn mains bu i assume this is in keeping with the brasserie casual dining approach - you can have 3 courses but if you just want an omelette or light meal thats fine too. I opted for the parmesan custard and anchovy toats which were mmmmmmm !!!!!! and crushed potatoes with truffles. My friend chose the salsify fritters and partridge with sprouts all of which were a success. Desserts had a huge choice of fruit or cheese in addition to the usual suspects. The chocoalte fondant was to die for and the vacherin was as good as any i have had, although the quince it was served with had more of a raw vinegr flavour than "pickled" Service was a bit slap dash, female staff didn't appear to have a uniform at all, indeed one attractive young girl was almost bursting out of her wrap top but was perfectly amiable and in keeping with the frenetic pace and setting. The chefs all look remarkably young and fresh faced which i suppose is testament to how smoothly things must be going. I will definitely return

"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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one attractive young girl was almost bursting out of her wrap top but was perfectly amiable and in keeping with the frenetic pace and setting.

That explains why my husband kept staring over my shoulder. And I thought he was admiring the stained glass. Greedy friends are gay so didn't pass comment, but seemed to like the nice young French waiters.

Sarah

Sarah

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I opted for the parmesan custard and anchovy toats...

You meant stoats of course :biggrin:

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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It looks like everybody likes Rowley Leigh.

He's obviously a great cook - Hell, he actually cooks. He stands behind a pass and gets sweaty over the plates most nights. How weird is that? Jan likes him, Fay likes him, last night Giles, who was sitting at the next table, got up and had a lovely chat with him. What's not to like? Lovely man, lovely food. And isn't it just great that, having been one of our solidly great chefs for a couple of decades, never selling out to telly or turning into a 'sleb' - he's finally got his own place?

Sadly, if last nights experience is anything to go by, no.

I realise things might come a little adrift in service when Giles Coren is sitting in the dining room* but there was no excuse for 25 minutes wait at the bar, 15 minute wait to order, and 20 and 30 minute waits for starter and main course respectively. There's no excuse for that ridiculous dance wherein, once you've finally managed to flag down a member of staff, they aren't actually allowed to take your order, get you wine or answer questions about the food and have to fetch someone else. There's no excuse for being out of two main courses and three by-the-glass reds by 9.30 on a Thursday.

No excuse except, perhaps this...

As I walked out of the lift into the dining room, I was whisked back in time - not to Paris between the wars or even the era of deco opulence suggested by the light fittings but to 1995. I'm not qualified to question the financial and business arrangements that got Leigh into bed with the owners of this space but suffice it to say he's been lumbered with a 1990's Conran Gastrobarn.

Everything about the joint, from scale, through staff to clientele and bloody stained glass just screams 'Quag's'. Same vapid looking American tourists and suity admen in low-vamp loafers; same Notting Hill great and good in pinstripes and hairspray. This place was set en gellee before Gordon Gecko was a joke and now the only up-to-date thing in it is Giles Coren's ironic Edwardian sideburns.

I thought we'd turned our backs on Conran. I thought the foodies of london had decided to give these palaces the miss-in-baulk and leave them for the sort of bridge-and-tunnellers that are only in town long enough to see 'Wicked'.

What the fuck is he thinking? It's like St John, the Fat Duck and Club Gascon never happened.

The food is great. The pheasant with choucroute was cracking. The pike boudin which should, by rights, taste like condom full of sticklebacks was every bit as good as everyone said. True, the pommes Anna lacked any quality of butteriness and came out a little like a boiled potato puck. True also that the chicken was a little dry. True, even, that you can't salt a radish from a naff little wooden grinder but, generally, he's doing a great job in the kitchen.

I have a theory about this. Back in the day, Conran was inspired by the gigantic Parisian brasseries. Those places ran well with large staffs of elderly, lifelong professional French waiters. They could hold it together at that scale. In the nineties, when London restaurants were just starting to happen and Conran was the only game in town, he could also afford large staffs of keen young people. Today, I don't think it can be done any more. A shit-hot waitron is going to want decent money working a smaller room for a more internationally known name. What Leigh has got is a bunch of second-string time-servers.

They looked bored, disheartened and above all totally disorganised.

And I really felt for Rowley behind the lamps. He looked lonely back there. Struggling to turn out great stuff then watching it manhandled round a huge, unwieldy space by a team of oafs.

I'll be intrigued to see what Giles has to say about the meal in his review. Certainly he won't have experienced any of the service faults affecting us or any of the tables around us and will, I hope, have had a brilliant meal cooked by a chef deserving of praise.

For what it's worth, I reckon the Cafe Anglais is going to bomb.

As long as Rowley Leigh has the personal stamina to keep turning it out, the food will stay good. But I don't reckon he can find or afford the people needed to service a room that big to the standard his food deserves. It'll end up like the Alameida in Islington - a competent Conran where the locals can bet on a decent steak and, because they can walk home, ignore the fact that the service would shame a school canteen.

*Just a little aside here but has anyone ever sat in a restaurant when a famous critic was dining there? Any pretence that it's an ordinary night is just ridiculous. Everybody knows who's there. There must have been 200 people in the dining room and open kitchen just staring at every forkful passing his lips. Being a customer in the same restaurant as a critic is like having a family singsong to which someone's invited Aunt Billie Holliday - the focus shifts.

(Not so much ETA as time-shifted by a decade)

(FETA: This was all abit rushed so, to be strictly accurate, just in case anyone is taking this seriously... I loved the fact that tap water was offered straight off with bottled as an option; hurrah for real breadplates - what kind of fucking barbarian eats off the tablecloth; the creamed spinach was great; the chips were very good and the bill for two - three glasses of wine, no desserts - came to £155. On balance, too expensive already. If he can't afford good staff charging these prices he's got nowhere to go.)

Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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I was whisked back in time...to 1985.

he's been lumbered with a 1980's Conran Gastrobarn.

Everything about he joint, from scale, through staff to clientele and bloody stained glass just screams 'Bibendum'.

Bibendum opened in 1987 and has 80 seats compared with 170-ish at Cafe Anglais. It was the first of Conran's modern restaurants (he opened the Soup Kitchen and the original Orrery in the early 50's) and its not until the opening of Quaglino's in 1993 with 300 seats that you get a "gastrobarn".

Le Cafe Anglais is closer in size and shape to Bluebird which opened in 1997 but reminds me far more of the original Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols. The stained glass is more Ivy I think.

No doubt it will take more than a few weeks, or even months, for LCA to settle down, but from my two recent meals there, I think its a London institution in the making.

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I was whisked back in time...to 1985.

he's been lumbered with a 1980's Conran Gastrobarn.

Everything about he joint, from scale, through staff to clientele and bloody stained glass just screams 'Bibendum'.

Bibendum opened in 1987 and has 80 seats compared with 170-ish at Cafe Anglais. It was the first of Conran's modern restaurants (he opened the Soup Kitchen and the original Orrery in the early 50's) and its not until the opening of Quaglino's in 1993 with 300 seats that you get a "gastrobarn".

Le Cafe Anglais is closer in size and shape to Bluebird which opened in 1997 but reminds me far more of the original Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols. The stained glass is more Ivy I think.

No doubt it will take more than a few weeks, or even months, for LCA to settle down, but from my two recent meals there, I think its a London institution in the making.

Thanks :wink:

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Temporal accuracy notwithstanding, Tim, I much prefered your unedited version. Mr Coren doesn't remind me at all of Billie Holliday, whereas a grandfather displaying his wedding tackle at inapproprite moments seems to nail it.

The missing link here is Charlie McVeigh - previously of Bush Bar & Grill, which pretty much defined the cavernous-venue-decent-food-shambolic-service genre. Perhaps he'll be able to marshall the East European front of house into something functional within six months. Iqbal Wahhab managed it at Roast against similar odds, so you never know.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Giles Coren's review of Le Cafe Anglais.

I was clearly quite wrong in my earlier post:

...Giles Coren's ironic Edwardian sideburns...

are obviously Victorian.

:biggrin:

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Had dinner a deux here just before Christmas. I need to go back with more people so we can order all of the appetizers. We only managed four. The parmesan custard is one of the best things I've tasted in ages. Loved it.

Service is still a bit sloppy and slow and the rice pudding which should have come with my wife's fruit didn't arrive. However, £120 for 2 with Camparis, champagne and a good bottle of Nebbiolo didn't hurt at all.

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  • 4 weeks later...
I think its a London institution in the making.

Went there last night... I'd agree there's a slightly institutional feel about it ;) it's more 'in' the shopping centre than I was expecting, you can imagine the space used to be occupied by a huge McDonalds. the decor was rather less lavish and more dated than some press reviews seemed to imply... however, it has to be said that some of the dishes were really very good, in a comforting butter-and-egg-white sort of way, and although some of the mains may be ambitiously priced, it's also possible to eat very inexpensively here. With the small starters at £3 each, a decent sized roast free range chicken leg/thigh for £5, excellent frites for (?) £3.50 and wines by the carafe at bottle matched prices (with some pretty cheap bottles on the list) he's certainly able to offer an affordable 'haute experience' for mass consumption.

For the record, the anchovy toast and parmesan custard and the pike boudin were incredibly rich and rather wonderful; the chicken was pretty good with a really very strong lemon thyme flavour, came with some sizeable roasted garlic cloves, the skin could have been crispier though; the frites, however, were very crisp and not over-salted, and the chocolate souffle was pretty sound too. some other dishes were surprisingly poor (the aubergine and leek and the red pepper and anchovy starters were dull, the anchovies small and over-pickled, the artichoke rissotto was low on artichokes and very over-salted) and service was friendly rather than slick (had to request missing knives for one course).

Anyway, wouldn't hesistate to go in the future for a cheap lunch of a few starters and a roast-something-and-frites.

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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