Deep in the heart of Selfridges - that most British of deluxe department stores - is a soupçon of France. Above the rich aromas of Italian shoe leather and money can be detected the scent of freshly baked breads and excellent coffee — Aubaine has opened in the new shoe gallery on the second floor.
Aubaine is, first and foremost, an upmarket patisserie, so the first thing you see as you enter — always assuming you can tear yourself away from the shoes — is a counter filled with all kinds of wonderful goodies. Plenty of flora brightens the place up whilst elegant white and purple seating contrasts nicely with graphite greys and warm lighting, making everything feel nicely sophisticated.
As every woman knows, shoe shopping is arduous and thirsty work, so why not relax and enjoy Aubaine's sophisticated ambience? It is easy to forget, thanks to open pipework, lots of large, leafy plants and judicious use of mirrors, that you are indoors — Aubaine's interior feels like you're sitting in a conservatory.
You can't fault the French when it comes to cuisine. And it would be hard for anyone not to find something they like on Aubaine's extensive menu. There are, for example, 11 starters (before you get to the salad course), six fish dishes and five meat options. An elegant brushed steel basket of fresh breads appears with buerre de Baratte d'Isigny — the poodle's doodles of French butter — giving you plenty of time to study the menu.
The starters offer the greatest taste bud tantalisation. Scallops (£12.95), served with a sauce vierge, are huge and succulent, accompanied by samphire, the asparagus of the sea. Its delicate flavour goes beautifully with the scallops, which are cooked to perfection and set off by the sweet acidity of the dressing. A salad of Roquefort, dandelion — yes, really — pear, fig and walnuts (£10.50) is luscious; the cheese is silky, with sweetness from the fruit and crunch from the walnuts.
In comparison, the mains are a little disappointing. But Aubaine is perhaps not the sort of place you'd visit for a three course dinner; it's perfect for a snack and a glass of wine after shopping. It's also worth a visit just for that exquisite Roquefort salad. That said, a main of wild sea bass, mussels, artichoke and tomato (£19.50) is full of flavour, although the fish is only just the right side of overcooked. A beef fillet burger (£15) is prepared exactly to specification, is juicy and extremely tasty and served with exemplary French fries — you'd expect nothing less — and neat little pots of mayonnaise, ketchup and Dijon mustard.
Fruit salad, sorbet, ice cream and cheese are offered as pudding options, but let's face it, who's going to go to a French patisserie and eat fruit? A delectable array of pastries (from £3.95) is presented for perusal on a platter — including chocolate eclairs oozing cream, two types of cheesecake and chocolate tart. They are every bit as good as they look.
Aubaine offers all the classic cocktails; a Negroni has just the right amount of kick, while a vodka Martini is served extremely “dirty” — adorned with the house spiced olives. House white and red are both Bergerie de la Bastide at £16.50 or £4.50 a glass. But the wine list isn't exclusively French; it includes whites from South Africa, Italy, New Zealand and Spain. Of this last, an Albarino (£38) is exceptionally fine. The reds have offerings from South Africa as well as a Rioja (£26), an Australian Shiraz (£25) and an Argentine Malbec (£43). The house Champagne is Lallier Premier Cru at £49 or £10 a glass.
The Last Word
As a high-end bistro, Aubaine doesn't really deliver — the mains let down the quality of the starters. But as the ideal place to take some weight off and enjoy a light bite and a glass of something chilled, it's a shoe-in.