Aubaine grew from its owner's despair at not being able to find good quality bread in London. Claiming to be a 'French revolution in London's all day dining scene', Aubaine sets out to bring some French style and substance to Mayfair's Heddon Street.
Set just off of Regent Street, Heddon Street is a welcome respite from the pushy shopping crowds. On warmer evenings Aubaine opens up its French doors onto the bustling courtyard and you feel a million miles away from Oxford Street. It has the shabby-chic (but clearly expensive) French look look nailed, with its purposefully distressed furniture, light wooden flooring and pretty antique touches, offering a real lesson in French rustic style. The ever so complimentary lighting for the ladies, pretty purple candles and cutesy plant pots on every table, make Aubaine a perfect spot for a romantic meal.
Aubaine is definitely targeting West End girls, rather than East End boys. Although the cosy, romantic atmosphere makes Aubaine a good date spot, the reality of the clientele is a mixture of girly dinners, couples and larger groups too, giving the restaurant a nicely laid back feel. As the roots of Aubaine are firmly placed in the boulangerie and patisserie business, many customers come in for just a coffee and dessert - even in the evening; something so missing from the London dining scene. Whilst the prices are at the higher end, the restaurant is not pretentious or stuffy, with a clientele that reflects the area, so expect a mixture of young professionals and smart tourists. Staff wear trendy uniforms, and are very knowledgeable, friendly and attentive.
Aubaine originally started out as a bakery, and now it's grown to several restaurants serving French and Mediterranean inspired food in well-heeled parts of London. Where possible they use organic ingredients, and the fish in which they specialise is delivered daily.
A bread basket to start affirms Aubaine's claim that they 'are all about bread'. These daily changing breads are made with real imagination and skill, and taste as good as they look. A cursory glance at the starters reveals that the prices are definitely more Mayfair than Oxford Street, with starters ranging from £7 for a soup, to £15.50 for a chicken salad... sacrebleu.
Salt and chilli fried squid with lime aioli, and coriander comes in a huge portion, appeasing the £11.50 price tag somewhat, and the accompanying salad of perfectly balanced chilli, coriander and spring onion is lovely – fresh and crisp, and cutting through the perfectly seasoned batter. The lime aioli doesn't taste of much, but luckily the perfectly cooked squid and salad are full of flavour on their own.
Scallops with ratatouille and basil oil is a really enjoyable dish – the ratatouille is beautifully sweet and flavoursome, with a depth that showcases the obvious quality of the ingredients. The scallops are perfect - seared on the outside, but still slightly translucent in the centre. However, the combination of the delicious perfection of the scallops and the £14 price tag leaves you wanting for more than the four small scallops served.
In comparison to the starters, mains seem more appropriately priced. Sea bass with steamed mussels, artichoke and tomatoes at £19.50 is a good dish. The sea bass is cooked perfectly, with crispy skin and succulent white flesh. Meaty artichokes add an interesting texture and depth to the dish and the fresh tomato lightens and sweetens things wonderfully.
One of Aubaine’s most popular dishes: lobster spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, cream and basil is perfectly balanced and satisfying. The fresh tomato sauce lets the chunky, meaty pieces of lobster sing and the plump juiciness of the fresh tomatoes give the dish a mouthwatering light touch. However at £21.50 a few more pieces of lobster wouldn’t go amiss.
Aubaine take their desserts seriously. Instead of a menu, the waiter brings out a patisserie board, ensuring that abstinence is nigh on impossible. A selection of French classics such as chocolate eclairs, mille-feuille, macaroons and raspberry and lemon tarts all compete for your attention. The raspberry tart is skillfully executed but the real star of the show it the sublime mille-feuille (layers of pastry with the stunning custardy cream). One is more than enough for two to share (if you can bear), and they're so good that plenty of patrons come in just for these alone - leaving immediately if they have sold out.
Aubaine boasts an extensive French and international wine list, with cocktails on offer too if that's your fancy. The house wine starts at £16.50, and prices rise swiftly from there. Staff are more than happy to match wine to each course, serving by the glass and with considerable expertise. The Picpoul de Pinet 2010 - which is super fresh and bursting with round fruit - cuts through the batter of the squid perfectly. The intense, yet refreshing and crisp Sancerre 2009 complements the lobster spaghetti very well, but would work extremely well with any of the fish dishes.
The Last Word
Aubaine serves well executed, good quality French inspired food but due to both its proximity to Mayfair and the stylish surroundings, be prepared to pay more for it than you perhaps would elsewhere in London.