Elegant, stylish and wonderfully refined, Aubaine’s philosophy is 'simplicité c'est beauté', and it’s easy to see this outlook pervading every element of dining here. From interesting, sophisticated French cooking to the rustic interior setting and charming service, Aubaine’s Hampstead branch is one not to miss.
Hampstead has a reputation for a reason. The affluent north London suburb has a high street reflective of its inhabitants, with designer fashion boutiques, antique dealers, independent cinemas and small art galleries lining the main thoroughfare, just moments away from the expanse of green on Hampstead Heath. In an area where estate agents’ windows consistently list properties only millionaires could consider, it’s evident that only the highest quality venues will enjoy continued success. Aubaine, though, just a five minute walk from the tube, happily slots with ease into the Hampstead restaurant scene. Inside, the interior is delightfully rustic and lives up to the restaurant’s aim of achieving a balance of Parisian salon and Provençal bistro; cream seating matches wooden tables and indoor plants are scattered around the space.
On a Saturday evening the venue is pleasingly full. A relatively compact space, it’s easy to imagine that the tables could have been inched together to fit in an extra few if Aubaine were that way inclined – fortunately, though, customer experience has clearly been prioritised here, and tables are a good distance from each other. Over the course of the evening, a steady stream of affluent diners come and go – and appear to have a great time – and service is pleasant and knowledgeable.
The menu here can be summed up as a twist on traditional French cuisine: fine dining done well, with a few interesting additions here and there.
Seafood is widely available on the menu, and the fried squid (£12) is an excellent place to start. Cooked with chilli and served with lime alioli and coriander, it’s made of proper pieces of squid (the tentacles are pleasingly evident). There’s very little grease, too, which is always the danger with deep frying, and the balance of herbs and spices is just right. The presentation, while excellent, may cause the dish to become a little fiddly, as the faux newspaper on which it is served tends to rip to shreds as the squid is cut into. However, the dish really is superb, and the flavours spot on.
Alternatively, any admirers of blue cheese would be advised to go for the pungent salad of Roquefort (£11.50). Liberal servings of superbly strong Roquefort are served with dandelion, figs, pear and walnut. Serving size is pleasantly large for a first course, and the classic flavour combination is done very well here: the cheese, walnuts, figs and pear all complement each other, and each are served in just the right quantities.
The meat here is wonderful, too. The 35 day aged rib eye steak, served with crispy shallots, fries and pepper sauce (£23.50) is cooked to perfection, however you like it done; having clearly been well-hung, the flavour is punchy and the meat well-marbled. The accompanying pepper sauce – a classic combination – is strong but not excessively so, and creamy, and a side order of salad is freshly prepared and nicely dressed. The stand-out of the menu here though has to be the lamb rack (£19), a roast rack of lamb with a niçoise garnish comprising a bed of crushed, soft but crispy new potatoes with a flavoursome combination of vegetables including carrots, garlic and shallots, mixed with a variety of herbs. The rack of lamb comes perfectly done: it really is some of the best lamb you’re likely to eat.
The focus at Aubaine is clearly on the first and second courses: there’s no dessert menu here. Instead, an interesting board of pastries, tarts and large macaroons is presented to each table along with a description of the day’s choices by the waiting staff. The raspberry tart – their so-called 'Queen' of the dessert selection – certainly lives up to its title: crunchy, thin pastry encases a soft, creamy tart, with juicy raspberries arranged very prettily on top. The millefeuille is a brilliant attempt, but the overly critical here might point out that the crème pâtissière is a little too heavy – closer to English custard than to pastry cream – and the pâte feuilletée a little dense. Notoriously hard to make, though, the millefeuille here is nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable, and a suitably pleasing end to a meal here.
The medium bodied house red – the French Le Bosq Rouge – is excellent value at £17.95 a bottle considering its quality. A well-chosen, drinkable red wine, the initial enjoyment of a glass of the stuff is aided by the noticeable fact that it’s served at exactly the right temperature.
The Last Word
The Hampstead restaurant scene is competitive and tough: if it’s not of the highest quality, the likelihood is it won’t last. Fortunately for Aubaine, it’s safe to say that they’ll be occupying their spot on the high street for a great deal longer. With superb French cooking, an excellent wine list and a refined ambience to match, it makes for an impressive evening in the heart of NW3.