The London restaurant scene feels like a perpetually revolving hive of buzzwords, with restaurateurs all too ready to jump on various fads and trends in a quest for relevance. It can get a little exhausting. Thank God, then, for Otto’s, a class act that ignores new conventions and glories in classic French cuisine.
Otto’s may well celebrate all things classic when it comes to French cooking but make no mistake, this is not a stuffy old French restaurant. If anything, the décor is a little hard on the eye at times - the white tablecloths providing the only hint of normality among the mismatched rooms containing everything from clean white surfaces and Greek busts through to garish red pub-like carpets, Jackie Onassis paintings and Marilyn Monroe prints. It’s odd - ugly even - but it does have a sort of clunky charm and it’s a great setting for first dates when you suddenly realise you have nothing to talk about except the décor.
Otto’s is a rare breed in London: a classic French restaurant that doesn’t go out of its way to make you feel uncomfortable. Here you can mispronounce French words, get flustered over wine tasting conventions and ask stupid questions about the menu and the staff treat you with wry respect. This place really has captured the essence of a neighbourhood restaurant and customers are made to feel like their custom is very-much welcomed, which is refreshing.
Dedication to classic French cooking can be found throughout the menu, but it's perhaps best evidenced in the canard de Rouen a la presse - £120 for two and at least 24 hours' notice. This is a rare, historic French dish that few restaurants attempt these days, and is sure to be a marvel – it just obviously costs a fair bit.
But never fear, not all of the dishes to grace Otto’s small but perfectly formed French menu are so highly priced. The spring pea soup (£5.95) is fantastic despite being the cheapest of the starters (£5.95-£12.50) and it shows the lightness of touch the kitchen portrays throughout. That said, the boldness of the flavour itself is surprising for such a light, summery dish, with a sweetness from the pea that is simply delightful. The texture is also fantastic – thick enough to feel like a meal without being too much before the main course.
To really experience what this restaurant can do with a main, try the pan-fried fillet of beef served with girolle mushrooms, rösti potatoes, truffle and port sauce (£24.95). It is a perfect example of French cooking – lots of butter, lots of richness, lots of fat. The beef is big, cooked rare (unless otherwise specified) and incredibly heavy – in a good way. The buttery girolles only serve to make the meal even more weighty, while the potatoes and earthy truffles add a certain amount of balance. However, it’s the sweet, alcoholic port sauce that really nails the dish. If you do prefer something less dense then the filleted John Dory is much lighter, served with Provençal vegetables, crushed potato and basil. It’s still not paltry and will fill up a hungry belly at least as fast as the beef but the light, gently flaking fish feels infinitely healthier.
Desserts are just about as classic as they come, with a very good cheeseboard (£9.50 - all French), ridiculously light and airy profiteroles (£6.25) and a lovely vanilla crème brûlée (£6.25) all worth sampling.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of Otto’s is that they are one of the few restaurants in London that don’t go in for crazy mark-ups on their wine selection. Instead, they add a fixed margin percentage to their cost price so you won’t experience the issue of 80% mark ups on fine wines and premium bottles. The result? Fantastic, affordable pricing on all of your options (starting at £19). They extend this further with an above-average selection of wines by the glass and half bottles of wine for those wanting to sample more without having to break into a bank to do so. It’s yet another signal from them that they put the customer first. A rarity in London these days – or so it seems.
The Last Word
Otto’s Restaurant has managed to adroitly balance modernity and classic French dining, which is no mean feat. Visit to sample wines usually out of your price range and to enjoy examples of top classic French cooking. Bon appétit.