For some friendly French dining in London's most glamorous village, stroll on down to Wimbledon's Cafe Rouge and sample some tasty Francophile favourites.
Situated in the heart of that South London film set they call Wimbledon Village, this recently updated branch of Café Rouge is sparklingly new and as cosy as a boudoir. Inside, the revamped decor is all dark woods, Dijon-coloured walls and luxuriously long red velvet banquettes. The dining area has been cleverly arranged to encompass private tables as well as leaving room for larger gatherings. Space-enhancing mirrors and clever lighting gives the place a cosy yet warren-like feel. For those who like to dine al fresco there's a handful of tables outside on the street, perfect for watching Wimbledon walk by over a glass or two of Chablis.
Cafe Rouge attracts a mixed crowd, the professional lunchers (and diners) of Wimbledon's elite but also a smattering of the younger, office crowd who come to sate their cravings for deep-fried Camembert and moules. The staff are friendly, attentive and in some cases, authentically French as are the soft tunes which drift calmly throughout the dining room.
Cafe Rouge has recently revamped its somewhat tired menu. It's kept the crowd-pleasers but has also added some exciting new examples of France's culinary expertise. Both lunch and dinner options are available all day giving punters plenty of choice. New additions include a crepe D'Eglefin, a baked pancake filled with creamy smoked haddock and melted Gruyere cheese. The fritots de Camembert is consistently fantastic, generously served as two fat discs of bread-crumbed loveliness, filled with a warm, gooey cheese that will melt even the sternest of good intentions. The salads are inventive and available in two sizes, the salade de Merguez is a meaty variation, bursting with warm, spicy Merguez sausage, red peppers, tomatoes and Risolee potatoes, tossed in a piquant balsamic dressing and served with spears of garlic croutons, dispelling the myth that salads are the lighter option.
For a more classic dish a must-try is the deeply rich and immensely satisfying boeuf Bourguignon. This famous recipe from Burgundy is perfectly executed with hunks of tender beef, soft shallots and smoky bacon in a thickened wine gravy. Served in a deep white dish with a slab of Dauphinoise potatoes and a handful of buttery green beans, it is simply stunning. For dessert, if you can possibly manage it, there is a trio of chocolate ganache, creme brulee and red fruit crumble which is ideal for those full bellies who just want a taste. The firm, lemony custard of the tart au citron is set off perfectly by a pearl of creme fraiche, but for hardcore pudding fans try the crepe au chocolat et banane, deliciously large, warm and gooey and served with a creamy vanilla ice cream.
When in France, or even a French restaurant, do as the French do and have an aperitif prior to your meal. Try something sparkly like a Kir Royale or even the strictly French Ricard avec eau.
The wine list is entirely French and of very quaffable quality. The standard house white, La Revolution, is a dry and fruity Vin de Pays d'Oc and at a smidge under £13 is perfectly drinkable with or without food. For the non-wine drinkers, there's a good selection of French and Belgian beers on offer including the strawberry flavoured wheat beer, Fruli and the quintessentially French 1664.
The Last Word
With it's authentic French fare at beer and baguette prices it seems this established chain of brasseries has really upped it's game and the idyllic Wimbledon setting is the perfect way to sample it.