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Wilfrid

Le Pigalle

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Okay, maybe moderate rather than cheap - I have been living in Manhattan too long - but this was one of the most surprising finds of my recent UK trip.  I had to go back a second time, because I couldn't believe it.

Le Pigalle is in premises formerly occupied by a very poor operation called Hujo's, on the dark block of Berwick street between Raymond's Revue Bar and the Blue Posts.  I chanced on it while heading for a pint in the latter - one of Soho's few remaining real pubs.  The menu looked convincingly French, but I had low expectations when I went in.  I had a fine casual dinner.

Very good quality goat cheese, served hot on croutons over a green salad.  Escalope of turkey (authentic French cafe fare, rarely seen in "French" bistros outside France) - served a la Normande, which turned out to be a creamy Calvados sauce.  Perfect pommes frites.  Let me just emphasize that:  perfect pommes frites.

This was a Saturday night, and the single room was packed, noisy, and smoky.  Service is informal and was very stretched.  The wine list is absolutely elementary: vins de table listed by grape, without much further information.  I drank an ordinary Portuguese rose.  But the food tasted like food in France.  I don't mean like a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a nice bistro - I mean it tasted like the home-cooked food you will get in a corner cafe or bar.  The kitchen staff are French, as are the waitstaff, and so is the owner, and I guess that explains the authenticity.  Thirty quid including a full bottle of wine.

I couldn't believe it, so I went back on a quiet Tuesday, when I was the only diner in the place.  I got talking to Francois, the waiter, and we reached agreement on all main points of current European politics, and cheerfully celebrated the defeat of Le Pen.  This, of course, made me even more well-disposed to the place.

Another cracking meal.  A gratin of shellfish - freshly prepared, with each mussel and shrimp distinct and tender in the cream sauce.  Having done well with a grillade last time, I thought I should try one of their long cooked dishes, so I ordered the petit sale.  Delicious Puy lentils.  I thought the garnish was slightly unorthodox - the dish was crowned with slices of smoked ham and bacon, which I would have expected to see on their choucroute.  But tasty.  I wanted to double check the pommes frites, so ordered an unnecessary portion.  This time I got thick cut chips, again perfectly cooked - you'd better specify if you want the skinny allumettes.  Twenty eight quid, including a half litre of merlot.

I learned that the same proprietor also owns the pair of "mediterranean" cafes just up the road before you arrive at the Blue Posts.  Different chefs there, so I can't tell you more.

I hope this place gets the support it deserves.  I was genuinely surprised.  At the risk of offending, I have to say I enjoyed it much more than a dinner at Le Trouvaille.  I felt the latter was trying very hard with a pleasant dining room and ambitious menu, but I didn't find the cooking all that good.

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 Perfect pommes frites.  Let me just emphasize that:  perfect pommes frites.

Ooooh.

Nice review.


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I happened to be drifting around Soho last night (with nothing but the most wholesome of motives, I assure you), so I decided to drop in on La Pigalle. I can fully support Wilfrid's assessment of the place - good, simple cooking, moderate prices, warm home-y service. And French.

The owner and waitstaff speak French at all times, making it clear that - although they'll graciously switch to English if you're really having trouble working things out - they think it would be a fine thing if you tried using as much French as you have back to them. This adds a whole educational component to the meal, and I'm tempted to visit regularly so I can haul my pitiful high school French up to a decent conversational standard.  :raz:

The owner asked me if I had been sent over by one of the other restaurants up Berwick Street, and when I told him that his food had been recommended to me he promptly brought over a complimentary kir. So I was already well-disposed to liking the food by time my steak-frites arrived.

My entrecote was perfectly bleu (I had asked for it very rare) with a good caramelised crust and a magnificently artery-choking slab of maitre de hotel. It was perched on a few slender green beans and carrot batons, and came with a large bowl of Wilfrid's perfect pomme frites. (And they are very good, although I'm far too partial to fat chips to be able to judge whether or not they were perfect.) There was also a pretty flourish of lightly dressed green leaves - just enough to cleanse the beef fat from my palate at the end of the meal. I swigged from a glass of undistinguished but still pretty moreish French Cabernet Sauvignon between bites.

For dessert I had the day's special, tarte tatin. It was a generous portion of beautifully caramelised, tender apples and slightly underpar pastry accompanied by a plume of squeezy-can whipped cream. Nothing gourmet, but pleasant and comforting - like apple crumble. It would have gone down a storm if last night hadn't been the hottest of the year so far.

As I was finishing my coffee, I noticed that the table next to me had ordered the soupe de poissons and were happily spooning what looking like quite a nice rouille onto croutons from a small pot in the centre of their table. Although I was very full after the tarte, it made me wish I'd ordered a starter.

Service was charmingly relaxed, and the people who drifted in on a Thursday night were clearly local workers who seemed used to practicing their French with the staff. From what I could see, there was a concentrated effort made to suit each party's "dining pace" - one table of three was in and out in less than an hour, while another loudly convivial table of six was there when I arrived and barely onto their mains when I left. And as for me, I was able to read a book, chat with the staff in my very rusty French, and mosey my way through a couple of courses without once feeling like a conspicuously Lone Diner.

My bill came to £23 altogether. Definitely a nice little 'local' find in the centre of Soho, and worth whiling away a weekday evening in.

Miss J

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This sounds really interesting. Any idea how much lunch is?

No - and I'm kicking myself because there were a few lunch menus kicking around (3-course set meal), and I glanced at them and promptly forgot EVERYTHING written on them. Sorry.  :confused:

Miss J

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I lunched there on Thursday - sweltering for local conditions.

The unpretentious cafe had 5 or 6 tables filled with the workers of the quartier (adbiz).

Set lunch £9.95 for 2 courses, £11.95 for 3.

Starters

Veg. Soup

Salad with poached egg & lardons

Salmon & Asparagus terrine

Mains

Mixed grill and chips

Cod on a tomato sauce

Supreme of chicken with mushrooms

All very unpretentious and straightforward.

I had terrine, followed by mixed grill.

Washed down with kir & carafe of cab sauv.

Foolishly opted for a slightly superfluous tarte tatin,

so required 2 cafe express + a brandy on the way back to a very lethargic afternoon.

The cod on the next table looked good, people either looked like they had the set lunch or their favourite off the carte.

Not a destination place, but very good to have at hand.

Service was good - though less over the top than La Trouvaille which was packed.

I'd go again if I was in the area.


Wilma squawks no more

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This sounds really interesting. Any idea how much lunch is?

Oh, now that Miss J's been, I mean don't take my word for it.   :angry:

Seriously, I'm glad to hear some confirmatory reports.  As I said, I went a second time because I couldn't quite believe it.  Hope it holds up to protracted inspection.  Perhaps it could open a branch on Avenue C in New York?

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Wilfrid, I'm afraid to say I missed your original  post and didn't see it until some further responses had been posted, so nothing personal!

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Gavin - blimin' eck, we must have missed each other by a matter of hours. And I too was felled by the tarte tatin in Thursday's heat.

Wilfrid - I went to Le Pigalle because you said it was nice.  So there. :raz:

Miss J

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Thank you Miss J, how sweet of you.

Andy Lynes, of course, is just messing with my mind. :wow:

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Wilfrid - I went to Le Pigalle because you said it was nice.  So there. :raz:

Me too.


Wilma squawks no more

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I walked the length of Berwick Street yesterday and couldn't find the place, is it actually on the main road or in one of the side streets?

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If it's indeed occupying the front formerly housing Hujo's, it's at 11 Berwick Street.

I can guarantee it's in the old Hujo's premises - they've scarcely refurbished it.  On the right as you head north between the RevueBar and the Blue Posts.  Hope they haven't shut down already!

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I went another round with Le Pigalle last week. Still has rough edges, but I am enjoying working my way through the menu. The sea food gratin was excellent again; the snails Bordelaise were averagely good. I ate pintade au choux, big tender chunks of bird served over tasty cabbage. My guest was defeated by the huge cassoulet. A convincing version, with good beans, a generous piece of duck confit, and some suprising improvisation - Toulouse sausage replaced by a chunk of chorizo!

Thirty pounds a head for dinner, including tip and a bottle of wine. I'm afraid some of their wine is pretty foul. I wonder if BYO is possible?

I am selfishly trying to encourage more of you to go and eat there, as I hope to keep returning!

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Went a week ago. Was rather too sloshed upon arrival to write up a decent report, but I remember a very good entrecote, served bleu and just as Miss J describes, apart from the disappointing frites, which were actually fried potato slices with no crispness to them at all; pleasant service from the waiter who drifted between French and English apparently randomly; burnt tarte tatin and slightly curdled crème brûlée. My takeaway was that it seemed pretty authentic but execution was flawed in a couple of places. I'd give it another go, though.

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I've been there a few times (at your recommendation Wilfrid!) and find the place an absolute scream. Francois, the waiter, is hilarious. I speak absolutely no French but we still manage to have a conversation in both languages! Last time we got free Kir's and calvados. In my opinion even if the food is a little hit and miss it is worth going for the atmosphere. Food that I and others have had include a very tasty fish soup with rouille, a slightly tough entrecote with some strange green sauce with lovely crisp fries. Last time I had guinea fowl with bacon and cabbage and it was moist, succulent and flavoursome and the rabbit was as good as any I’ve had in La Trouville. It strikes me as an institution, Francois seemed to know everyone who went by and he makes everyone feel really welcome. Long live Le Pigalle! :biggrin:

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If it's indeed occupying the front formerly housing Hujo's, it's at 11 Berwick Street.

I can guarantee it's in the old Hujo's premises - they've scarcely refurbished it...

Nor have they changed the phone number, or the listing according to BT for that matter !

Does anyone know if they take bookings for lunch? I've been trying to call for the last 1/2 hour, phone always busy...

Never mind, just got through... the answer is "yes".

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After all the talk, I had to pay a visit to Le Pigalle so did so last night with a couple of work colleagues. As usually happens when we go somewhere after work though, we were quite far past tipsy when we got there so weren't in the ideal state for a culinary experience but really enjoyed everything about it.

We arrived just after 9 and were the only people there. A few minutes later another diner arrived, who'd obviously come specifically for the food as well. I thought he was a regular, but Francois (who was every bit as entertaining as I'd been led to believe) said it was the first time he'd been. I should probably apologise to him for our undoubtedly loud discussions in the otherwise empty restaurant.

I managed to defeat the huge (and very enjoyable) cassoulet. No chorizo this time; was informed by Francois said it was made with Toulouse sausage that the chef had bought in France that morning.

Our bill came to £35 a head which was more than I was expecting, but when I realised we had ordered aperitifs, assorted glasses of white wine with our starters and then a bottle of Crozes Hermitage, it became clear.

I'll definitely be going back, either at lunch or in the evening when in a more capable state.

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Yes, Francois is a card, isn't he? The place always seems to be either packed or totally empty. And I wonder what is happening with the fried potatoes - I had terrific skinny pommes frites the first time I went, but on the second occasion got the boring fat chips. Maybe one should specify when ordering.

Has anyone yet been to the place a few doors up the street under the same ownership, but different kitchen - Cafe du Marche?

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Cafe du Marche's been around for a bit.

As an affordable Francofauxne place it attracted the bourgeois bohemian fringes. I suspect that it is therefore slightly less unspoilt than le Pigalle which has an excellent integrity.

It's maybe a year since I ate there as I recall wine better than Pigalle, Food maybe not quite so good - probably reflecting a small place under more pressure from customers.

I'd definitely return to Pigalle in preference to the Cafe du Marche - and indeed did. My companion's Chateaubriand was exceptional.

I had very good scallops for a starter (& then pork chop & frites - the good frites).


Wilma squawks no more

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Although the Cafe has been around a long time, I wonder if it's always been the same ownership. I take it the menu was somewhat different from Le Pigalle?

God, I wish I was sitting in the Blue Posts right now, quenching my thirst before another visit to Francois.

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