This longstanding French restaurant is obviously doing something right, and long may it continue - this is one of the most charming venues London has to offer.
Tucked away at the end of the cobbled Charterhouse Mews, this beautifully decked out restaurant feels just about as French as you’re going to get in London. Wicker chairs, wooden beams and exposed brickwork are bathed in a warm amber glow, candles sit lit on soft white napery and an old piano takes centre stage, with empty bottles stacked atop and ivories awaiting a tinkle or two. A couple of large mirrors, some unobtrusive art and a perfectly battered wooden floor complete the look, with a few pleasant little pot plants thrown in for good measure. It’s an undeniably pretty restaurant, one that feels a million miles away from this - or any - part of London town.
It really is a warm and inviting restaurant, with staff who know their stuff and are every bit as charming as the venue itself. Given that it’s such a romantic restaurant it is perhaps a little surprising to see so many suits but then this is lawyer land – their presence is probably a combination of convenience and excellent fare, rather than the stress of chambers pushing them into each other's loving arms. Still, they’re a well-behaved bunch, and this is somewhere that feels intimate wherever you sit, especially when the piano makes its bow, the double bass begins and toes start a-tappin'.
If you’re after an antidote to convoluted techniques or cliché-ridden dining concepts then the classic French dishes at Café du Marche will probably leave you very happy indeed. The menu changes every so often to reflect seasonality, and it’s all at a set price (£28.50 for two courses, £34.85 for three), so you know exactly what you’re getting, even if there is the odd supplement or two.
The quality is high too, as a starter of snails with girolles on toast illustrates. The snails are big and plump and retain a bit of bite, as do the mushrooms, with everything brought together by a bit of parsley and loads of garlic. The odd mouthful may border on over-seasoning, but it remains a beautiful take on a French classic. A roast vegetable, honey and thyme soup is similarly impressive but it’s the foie gras terrine with vanilla prunes and brioche that’s the pick – velvety, salty foie gras is perfectly balanced by three different brands of sweetness.
The cassoulet maison is another excellent version of a classic dish – and it’s huge. Faithful to its Languedoc origins, it’s an intoxicating mix of garlicky Toulouse sausages, white beans, thyme, parsley, shallots, white wine, carrots, tomatoes, more garlic, pork rind to flavour and probably a fair few bits more. A special of salt beef with shoulder of lamb with a parsley and caper jus is less salty than it sounds, with sweet lamb and a well-judged and surprisingly delicate jus playing host to big and rustic carrots and suede.
Desserts include a very good (if ever so slightly mean) cheese board that comes – shock horror – with decent crackers. The one to go for, though, is an incredible bread and butter pudding with depth, creaminess and delicious chewy sweetness from a marmalade glaze.
The solid wine list offers a slight slant toward France, but there are some judicious inclusions from Argentina, South African and Spain too. Starting at £19.95 for a very good house red (2006 Chateau de Nardon Bordeaux), the list offers a decent spread up to a 2004 pinot noir from ‘vielles vignes’ on the Rion vineyard, Nuit St. Georges at £77. If you’re feeling flash then there can’t be many better ways to finish things off than with a bottle of ’77 Warre’s port, coming in at a cool £125.
The Last Word
A ridiculously charming restaurant that combines impeccable French cooking with a gorgeous setting, before plonking it down in the heart of London. No wonder it's still going strong.