La Brasserie was the first to bring all-day dining to London: it revolutionised the local food scene in Chelsea back in the 70s, serving classic French dishes from breakfast to dinner. It doesn't seem like the menu has changed much since, and yet the place is still crowded out on a school night.
If the black and white tiled floor, chequered tablecloths, and dark, red leather seating aren't indicative enough of a traditional brasserie, then the upright, apron-wearing waiting staff and the menu in French certainly are. A large bay window holds smaller tables, and a long bar with glistening cocktail glasses dominates the restaurant as you walk in.
Laid-back and local, La Brasserie has captured a bit of faded Parisian chic on the streets of Chelsea. Chatter from diners is animated but not too noisy and tables are close enough together to make the place feel intimate without being overcrowded. Service is friendly in the truest sense of the word: one waiter, Juan Carlos, takes pride in the food and is genuinely concerned about guests enjoying their evening.
The menu plays it by the book, offering all the classics you'd expect. There's the sense that locals come here when they want to eat a familiar, favourite dish, with a touch of personal service and not too much fuss. Scallops with pea purée and bacon (£11.80) isn't a flavour combination that will take anyone by surprise for starters, but it's well executed with tender scallops and crisp bacon. The duck terrine (£8.80) is coarse and the slight sweetness of the meat plays off the peppercorns and a sharp onion marmalade.
Minute steak Diane (£22.90) is tenderised with a rich brandy and mushroom sauce. The steak itself isn't the finest cut, but served with a sprig of watercress and half a tomato, it's still a classic. Roasted fillet of cod (£19.90) is soft and cooked to perfection, and a drizzle of truffle oil adds depth to the potato purée. French fries (£3.80) are crisp with a light and fluffy potato centre - and they're obviously a popular choice, as they seem to arrive at every table. Green salad (£4.90) with a punchy vinaigrette makes a good side, as the food is otherwise quite rich.
For dessert, tarte tatin (£6.90) has a dense caramel sauce covering soft apples, but the pastry is slightly lacklustre. A pile of profiteroles (£6.90) arrives with a dark chocolate sauce and buoyant creamy filling, but again, the pastry could be crisper.
La Brasserie recently expanded the bar area, which gives the venue much more flexibility. Regular commuters perch there drinking coffee in the mornings, and are quite likely to return for a Martini at night. Alex, the bartender, makes any cocktail to order (from £8.50) but one of the most famous is the Brasserie Martini, served over ice with an oyster on the side (£12). Wines are also available in carafes, which means you don't have to argue over red or white to share. The wines are unashamedly, exclusively French and include a fine selection of rose, red and sparkling. The waiter gives good recommendations: Sancerre Domaine de la Perrière is bright and fruity, and Château de la Gasparde is rich enough to balance the creamy steak Diane without overpowering the brandy-based sauce.
The Last Word
If you like your French bistro classics done well, with exemplary service, La Brasserie is the place for you. The manager has been there for over 30 years, and it’s pretty clear that the locals have been coming here for just as long, too.