How I miss La Belle France: the architectural grandeur, the elegant cypress trees, the Riviera terrasses and most of all the bonhomerie of its food and wine from the very simple to the gastronomic.
With a little savoir faire, it is possible to travel to France on your plate, even without leaving London.
For the South of France, head to Folie
Newcomer Folie is pure South of France in its joyous vibe. It is glamorous with sleek banquettes, windows flung open, tables spilling onto Golden Square, suave owner Guillaume Depoixand chef Christoph Marleix who comes hot from working for Alain Ducasse (French culinary royalty of the highest order).
An exquisitely prepared plate of crudites with anchoide and black olive tapenade (transporting me to sublime memories of lunching on the terrasse of St Paul-de-Vence’s famous art hotel La Colombe D’Or) and crisp, salty panisse (chickpea croquettes) make quintessentially French amuse-bouches. The menu is healthy (no butter nor cream) yet luxurious: tuna tartare, grilled brill deboned at the table with capers and olives, definitive ratatouille. Come the evening, there’s a more clubby feel thanks to the French DJ Florian whom Guillaume knows from their shared time at seminal Parisian Cafe Costes.
For le petit déjeuner, eat at Le Miel
For a truly French breakfast, Le Miel in Fitzrovia is a gem. Owner Shaheem Peerbhai trained at Cordon Bleu Paris and bakes an impressive French repertoire using the best of French ingredients: from Normandy butter to Valrhona chocolate. The choice is mesmerising from properly laminated croissants (multiple crisp, flaky layers) to apple chaussons, Breton outrageously buttery kouign aman, cinnamon brioche, madeleines and palmiers. Better still, with 24hr notice, they will arrange delivery. mielbakery.co.uk
For lunch, try Bibendum’s Oyster Bar
For a stylish lunch outdoors in glorious sunshine, book a courtyard table at Bibendum’s Oyster Bar. It surely rates as one of the most chic terraces in town with the beautiful tiles of Michelin’s original London HQ. Claude Bosi’s menu includes head-turning multi-layered impeccable fruits de mer platters, an impressive choice of French oysters plus classics given the Bosi two Michelin star creativity whether steak tartare or salad nicoise, steak au poivre , lobster thermidor or piperade. Bibendum.com
Wile away an afternoon at Pique-nique
Tucked behind Bermondsey Street, Piquenique is in a former tennis court booking office in a small park. It is an unexpected oasis attracting a decidedly arty bohemian clientele making it seem even more French. It has masses of outdoor seating and a striking long zinc bar, archetypal French mirrors and posters gracing the interior. Gloat over classic pate en croute or artichokes a la grecque, sharing platters of Chateaubriand, chicken with cep jus or a whole turbot. Superb wine list too. piquenique.co.uk
For old school brasserie, try Le Colombier
Unashamedly French with the accent firmly on brasserie style, South Kensington’s Le Colombier is run by Didier Garnier and is a favourite of legendary chef Pierre Koffmann and his wife Claire. The menu is brazenly French: fish soup with especially garlicky aioli, sea bass and steak frites. le-colombier-restaurant.co.uk
Chomp on moules frites at Le Garrick
Equally unapologetically old school with its nod to 1980s bistros is family-run Le Garrick, re-opening on the 9th September, with its romantic vibe given a thoroughly modern, safe & healthy update. Dine on impeccable house terrine, moules frites and duck confit with honey plus a proper cheese trolley. It is reassuringly good value too. Legarrick.co.uk
For snails go to L’Escargot
Snails are unsurprisingly a speciality of the house at L’Escargot (it was the first restaurant in England to serve the gastropods), alongside classics like lobster bisque and coq au vin. A Soho landmark since 1927, L’Escargot in a Georgian town-house, once the private residence of the Duke of Portland, has attracted many famous guests from Coco Chanel to Mick Jagger and is now owned by Brian Clivaz (previously of The Arts Club and Langan’s Brasserie, where chef James Terrell hails from). Over the summer, L’Escargot-Sur-Mer is operating in the beautiful seaside town of Aldeburgh serving fish and seafood. lescargot.co.uk
For romance, head to Frenchie
More genial is Frenchie modelled on its equally good-looking Parisian counterpart with sage leather banquette seating, a white marble bar and metal tables. Here chef-patron Greg Marchand’s menu is playfully promiscuous in its French meets global dishes: foie gras is matched with mango and macadamia. The maple bacon scones with clotted cream sound bizarre yet make for a sublime sweet and sour amuse. Manicotti with ricotta potimarron squash and pumpkin seed crumble is a superb vegetarian choice. Frenchie eat at home is offered too Wednesday-Sunday evenings. Bespoke origami like packaging unfolds into beautiful plates elevating the delivery experience. A menu might include gruyere gougeres, smoked ricotta, strawberry, pea, chive mayonnaise salad, brioche and herb stuffed chicken with asparagus, Jersey royals, broad beans and datterini tomatoes, pistachio and raspberry frangipane tart, raspberry sauce, meringue, brown butter madeleine £45. frenchiecoventgarden.com
Pack une picque-nique
There’s a reason why the word picnic hails from France. They do it best. Le Deli Robuchon is open all day and offers bespoke picnics starting from as little as £5.95 for a mix and match box to an £80 grand spread of cheeses, charcuterie, quiches, wine for dejeuner sur herbe in Green Park or Hyde Park. robuchonlondon.co.uk/le-deli.
Treat yourself, you’re on holiday
For a total French splurge, think of all the savings on not taking a villa, there are two outstanding choices Michel Roux’s Le Gavroche offers a weekly changing set three course lunch including wine and water £76.00, a menu du jour available at dinner too £80 and stupendous a la carte including. Neighbouring two Michelin star in Mayfair Helene Darroze’s luxury eatery The Connaught has a ‘Taste of Summer’ menu celebrate the provenance of British ingredients in inimical Southern French style. Savour Hélène’s iconic hand-dived scallops, Ajo blanco velouté of fresh almonds and garlic, served with Cornish mackerel and a Highland Wagyu beef, barbequed and served with a jus infused with salted anchovies. theconnaught.co.uk
Boff, why not eat in?
La Poule au Pot, long lauded as one of the most romantic French restaurants in London and home to many a liaison dangereuse is deliveries only presently. There’s a seductive choice of terrines, their famous onion tart, la poule au pot, le coq au vin and le boeuf bourguignon and chocolate pot. pouleaupot.co.uk
Mr Duck run by a French chef based in the UK is a source of rare culinary pleasure. They use only Mulard ducks reared in the Landes region, free range and naturally fed. Feast on duck confit, magret, gizzards, rillettes, raw and cooked foie gras, duck liver and duck fat plus a fine wine and cognac cellar. mrduck.co.uk
Champagne + Fromage, shop-bistro combines two of France’s most estimable specialities with a dazzling choice of French soft and hard cheeses from small producers and grower champagnes. Besides cheeseboards, the eat-in menu includes tartines, fondues, tartiflettes, oven-baked cheeses and quiches. champagneplusfromage.co.uk
Embrace bringing France home that bit further with Rosa Jackson of Petits Farcis who is offering virtual culinary courses. Rosa’s long feted Nice cookery school is renowned for its classes combining visits to the vibrant Cours Saleya market producers with a hands-on class. Throughout August, Rosa has zoom cookalong classes focussing on a different Nicois speciality each day such as pissaladerie or ratatouille. petitsfarcis.com