Le Cafe Anglais (Guest Post by London Eater)

I have such a treat to share with you today as I have an amazing guest post on Le Cafe Anglais from Kang over at the fabulous London-Eater:

If you haven’t heard, the FT lunch offers have been quietly driving Londoners to restaurants lately. The deal is quite a good one, 50% off the food portion of the bill (for two) and an extra £5 for the guest. Anglais is the Anglo-French eatery owned by the FT cookery correspondent Rowley Leigh. It has Matt Norman wanting this rising star airlifted into the west end and has had Douglas constructing all manner of intoxicating prose about it.

You can understand my delight when I saw this in the FT offer list – Which brings me nicely to the front door at Le Café Anglais. I waited by the empty reception for someone to take me to my table and had a glance at their table which were littered with stacks of FT lunch offer vouchers. Each of the stacks were neatly arranged on the counter and there must have been 20 stacks (tables) or so. I found it mildly amusing seeing as to how the pretension that seemed to be spewing from every corner of the dining room didn’t match the size of their wallets. It just goes to show just how far the recession has really taken hold of the nation, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Brown was doing the same and cutting out lunch vouchers after he’s done with his copy of the FT.

Following the horror show at Incanto, I felt I had to make up for the Rhubarb fool with a visit to a proper restaurant and duly invited along the woman with the one liners yet again as my ‘plus one’.

It was a sunny and surprisingly warm day when we arrived and the high ceilings and large bay windows let in lots of lovely sunshine for us to bath in. I’d almost describe the restaurant as being art-deco with out of date looking (but that’s why it’s hip) booth sofas and more old school wood and marble than you can shake a stick at. I don’t quite know how else to describe the blocky chandeliers ( are they even chandeliers? ) that hang from the white ceiling. The restaurant is huge, but the tables were so closely packed in that I had to pretend I couldn’t hear the neighbours talking about what to do with their mortgage.

Glancing over the huge A1 menu, it is reminiscent of a seafood restaurant on a five star cruise , fish pies, oysters and roast meats. There doesn’t seem to be any fancy names (fish soup is fish soup) and food looks as straightforward as a Parisian café.

The bread was served with unsalted butter and they also brought over some baby radishes to get things started. I was going to order some bubbles to start but was completely narked when the top of the menu read ‘cover charge £1.50’ … and 12.5% optional service charge at the bottom. As if 12.5% doesn’t cover the ‘cover charge’ , what does cover charge even mean in this day and age of the ‘optional’ service charge? Does Mr Leigh want me to opt out of the option to which I am obliged to do so at my discretion?

Bleh. Before the argument could take any further shape, the most important man in the restaurant shoved my fish soup on the table. The soup was also served with some fried toasts and a grainy chilli infused hummus-mayo dip, with cheddar shavings on the side. The soup was of an intensely rich seafood aroma and the grainy texture went down heartily with tastes of all kinds of shell fish. I’d like to say that the broth must have been cooked in mussels and lobster because it just tasted so appetising, with a bit of chilli to lift the flavour – it was like the best paella sauce made into a soup. Wow, I really loved it, a perfect fish soup.

Over on the other side of the table was a rather light and creamy soup of Jerusalem artichokes and cauliflower. There was a dash of lemon drizzle in there and was in total contrast to my intense fish soup. On first taste, I kind of preferred the lightness of the creamy soup – but then having a bit more we both agreed that the fish soup was the real winner.

The soups were about £7 each, pretty large portions too and quite good value I got to say. Seeing as to how this place has a rotisserie, I had to try their meats and so it fell upon the lady to go with a fish option – the £10 fish pie to be exact.

I am all for really good British cooking. I think that there are fantastic dishes in British cuisine and there are great British chefs who can/have been glorifying British food. Come on – you can’t tell me that you don’t enjoy a damn good fish pie. The crusty potato crust, cracking it and witnessing the rising steam, the smell of parsley, cream and haddock … oh…

Absolutely heaven. The fish pie is really, really good. The gorgeous crusty top and the rich and creamy fillings included diced boiled egg portions too. It looked deceptively modest when in fact this was a monster of a pie which one struggled to finish, but we did because it was delicious. Long live British food. Yeah.

I really wonder how my rump point roast with sweet shallots was going to match up. At £16, it’s a bit pricey for three fairly dinky slices of rump. Perhaps the picture is slightly misleading because the plate is about ¾ the size of a normal plate – making the portion ¾ smaller as well. While I would usually stay away from the rump, I thought I’d give it a try, what with it’s superb reputation and the fact that it’s the only cut of roast beef available. I asked for mine medium rare and it was a perfect pink, juicy and still a little bloody too. The sweet shallots sauce was lovely, however the wet and chewy meat was let down by the rubbery cut of meat. It does taste good – but if I have to cut into the meat more than five times before I can stick a piece into my mouth, then it really shouldn’t be worth £16. For a rump steak – brilliant but perhaps its time they switched to roasting a whole rib of prime scotch beef instead.

I elected to finish off the relatively heavy meal with a fruity pudding: Poached pear with red wine sauce and vanilla pannacotta. The cold pear was sweet like honey and carried only a slight tanginess in it’s taste. The viscous red wine sauce was uplifting and paired with a custard-y vanilla pannacotta that took it’s time to melt in my mouth , I was suspended in a nirvanic pudding moment for a short while. Clean flavours and a good end to the meal.

The word ‘wonderful’ keeps popping into my mind as I try to sum up the meal. The cooking is rustic and it’s clear the chef has a very good idea of what balanced flavours means. I’d really like to claim this restaurant as a jewel in the British crown because the food is simple, straightforward and fuss free. Most of all – it’s just damn good. I’d also like to say that it is not expensive, but a bad taste developed when the bill came. The meal –before discount- came to £71 (sans liquid courage). After the FT offer it was £46 to which £9 was service charge. This is on top of the £3 cover charge. £12 is almost 26% for service and it was then I thought maybe I should exercise my ‘option’. As I wait for the front of house to fetch my warmers, I could not help but wonder why they still put out a pointless little white dish on the reception counter when they’ve already taken £1.50 (plus 12.5% on it!!) from me. Either the cover charge, or the little dish goes. Choose one, Mr Leigh, but whatever you do – keep up the great British food.

Details: 2nd Floor Whiteleys, Bayswater W2 4DB
Damage: Budget Breaking (lucky for the FT)
Thanks so much to Kang for this guest post. Go and check out his blog at London-Eater if you are not already a regular reader…

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  1. I had a great time when I went to Le Cafe Anglais in July 08, and the only reason I haven’t returned is because I’m too tired these days to make it to Bayswater (from Angel).

    But now that I see I can get 50% off the food tab, I’ll try a little harder to return there. Thanks for the fun post.

    Oh, and when I went last July, the cover was £1.50 a person. £3 a person seems like a big jump in six months, no?

  2. It still is £1.50 per person, £3 was referring to the two of us dining 😛

  3. Rump is usually a chewy cut of meat, but full of flavour. I keep meaning to come here, people keep raving about the parmesan and anchovy toast.

  4. I’m drooling. 😀 Wish I weren’t so far away (in Boston).

    a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

  5. Great photos. I am itching to go here. Ever since I tried Rowley Leigh’s food at the Taste of London. If only it was in W1…

  6. Thank you Gourmet Chick and London Eater! Great point here:

    “As if 12.5% doesn’t cover the ‘cover charge’ , what does cover charge even mean in this day and age of the ‘optional’ service charge?”

    Food for thought!

  7. A beautiful review, and though I’m not normally a bit dessert person, pears are one of my favorite, so I was delighted by the poached pear with red wine sauce and vanilla pannacotta. That’s a great combination!

  8. American in London – I am lazy like that as well – sometimes it just seems too far away!

    Jessie – Kang’s photos are making me drool as well

    Browners – as above!

    Heidi – I agree “optional” service charge should include cover charge

    Global Patriot – Poached pears with red wine sounds like a beautiful winter dessert.

    Thanks everyone for your comments and to Kang for such a great guest post.

  9. My partner and I went to Cafe Anglais a week ago. We dined out to the tune of 251 pounds and had several courses. The service was over attentive initially which was fairly welcomed and then tailored off after a complaint over the main course. The chateaubriand which we ordered was supposed to be medium but arrived very rare and when returned had merely been flash fried and re-served. The mont blanc dessert was virtually inedible with a meringue base that could only be broken with a hammer and a glutinous sauce. The potatoe dauphiniose was also as equally hard. Several of the guests were dressed as though they had also just fallen out of a local back packers. All in all an over priced restaurant with a broad but patchy menu and variable service. Extremely disappointing for what was supposed to be a special night. A visit never to be repeated!

  10. Dale – disappointing to hear. You expect perfection when paying those prices.

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