Lunch on the left bank. OK, so it’s not Paris. No happy smell of tear gas, no waiters with selective blindness. Gazette is however ... Read Feature
The French Kitchen is the new the venture from caterer David Healey, known previously for his very popular French Café on Ritherdon Road. So with this reputation in mind the Ultimate Rugby Fan (URF) and I accepted an invitation to try out his new premises.
The French Kitchen is situated near the junction of Trinity & Bellevue roads, in an area that could be Wandsworth Common’s very own restaurant row, boasting as it does at least 5 different venues. Sandwiched as it is between the upscale Bellevue and the semi legendary Indian Ocean, it was gratifying to hear a babel of noise indicating a healthy level of covers as we walked in.
The interior space has been decorated in a warm and unfussy mix of blues and creams, with plain wood flooring and furniture. This homely feeling extends into the menu which offers a no nonsense, comforting mix of French bistro classics. French food, like Chinese seems to have been a bit on the retreat recently, and it’s nice to see somewhere offering these classics like confit duck and steak frites in such nice surroundings.
There are two different menus, a prix fixe and a short a la carte. The prix fixe at £12.50 (and a table d’hôtel £15.95 on Sundays,) appears to offer ridiculously good value with a full 2 course meal for under £15 a head. The a la carte menu is also very reasonable with most starters sitting about the £5 mark, and mains resting around the mid-teens.
Both myself and the URF fancied going a la carte so I started with the fois gras parfait whilst she plumped for one of her favourites: French onion soup. The parfait was pretty good with great texture and a strong flavour. The soup came as a hearty portion, with as much taste as there were onions, so then a goodly portion of both. The URF’s only criticism was that for her the croutons were perhaps slightly too thick, but I think this is down to a matter of taste.
The wine we had chosen was a Cote du Rhone, light enough to go both with the starters and the beefy main courses we had chosen. The wine list is fairly short, good value but with quite a lot of variation.
The comments I have just made about the wine list could be equally applied to the menu as a whole. From a starter menu of about 6 items, you have a range of two soups, a pate, seafood and a couple of salad options which can then be made up to main courses for those looking for something lighter.
For the mains as just mentioned, we’d both gone for bits of cow, the URF for what might be regarded as the ultimate bistro classic, the boeuf bourguignon, and me for the runner up, steak frites. If we’d had a third member of the part they would have surely then plumped for the confit du canard. There were also fish, chicken and risotto options on offer, so yes something even for the fussiest eater.
Earlier in the day I had spoken to David about the concept for the French Kitchen, one thing that came through in our conversation and in mine and the URF’s devouring of his food was the commitment to using natural, healthy ingredients. My steak with the bone marrow source, was perfectly cooked French style, being seared on the outside and pink in the middle, with some very tasty and crispy frites.
The URF allowed me to try some of her main course, and the sauce was as expected warm and comforting with the beef flavours overlain by a salty homeliness of the lardons, tasting like the dish you’d dream of on cooling autumn evenings. I could almost smell a bonfire.
The problem with such good comfort food is that it leaves little room for pudding, even for one shaped as much like a pudding as me. We did however manage to squeeze in a shared crème brulee, and I’m glad we did. This is a relative simple dish, and one that many people therefore manage to get wrong. Here the topping was crispy and the vanilla flavour uppermost in the custard, it was for me a bit of a highlight.
The bill would have come to about £80 which for 2.5 courses each and a bottle of wine between us I would say is good value, and should you go for the prix fixe and just a glass each you could have a great economical night here and enjoy better value cooking then I’ve come across for a while. I’d draw a comparison with Clapham Junction’s Prix Fixe, which offers similar priced dishes and then ruins it with average cooking and the need for plenty of side dishes.
For me the only change I’d make is perhaps to make the bar area a bit bigger so that people can linger before or after dinner, and perhaps dim the lights earlier in the evening. When we first came in it was lit up rather like a TV studio. Speaking to David, I know that he is looking to launch a range of ready meals based on his classic bistro menu. If they are as healthy and tasty as his restaurant food, I’m certain I’ll look to put some in my fridge, and hopefully we can talk him into doing a NVN offer for new customers. I would like to wish the French Kitchen success, but judging by the amount of covers they were doing on the average Thursday night we visited they don’t need my wishes, so all I’d say is try it for yourself, a place as easy on the pocket book as it is the tummy. Enjoy.
216 Trinity Road, Wandsworth, SW17 7HP.