Located down a cobbled mews off Charterhouse square Cafe du Marche is the sort of place that feels like you are in on a hidden secret. It is really best to be taken there otherwise you may get lost. Inside, it is more Provencal than Provence itself with a rough hewn brick walls lining the light filled rooms. The tables are set with fresh white linen and wicker chairs are padded with blue and white striped cushions. A piano sits in the centre of the room and is apparently used for jazz in the evenings.
The menu is a hymn sheet of French classics. In the cafe there is a set menu of £33.85 per person which is all written in French except for the part about the 15% “optional” service charge which is in English so that there is no misunderstandings. Never mind, from the entrees the soupe de poisson is a Cafe du Marche classic. It is a thin but flavoursome soup that glows with a rich burgundy colour and is served in the traditional French way with a side plate of croutons and cheese. It is not necessarily a pretty sight as you spoon the soup into your mouth with layers of melted cheese stretching in taut spiderwebs from the spoon to the bowl but it is certainly delicious. The risotto de petit pois is also a highlight, stunning in the simplicity of the creamy white risotto studded with fresh peas and topped with shavings of Parmesan cheese.
If there are two of you (and surely there will be) you must order la cote de boeuf. You will be served with a wooden board containing a truly gluttonous amount of tender steak cut into thick slices against the grain. Be warned that Cafe du Marche is truly French as meat is served on the rare side. A request for medium rare results in steak that is almost still kicking so I would be interested to see what you get if you ask for rare. The cote de boeuf is served with a sizzling skillet of baby potatoes and roasted cherry tomatoes alongside lashings of Bearnaise sauce. Apart from the flagship dishes the menu changes on a monthly basis but if it is offered another good option is the “Pastilla” de pigeon a la marocaine. This traditional Moroccan dish comprises slices of pigeon breast and slivered almonds encased in an envelope of filo pastry and served with a creamy sauce.
Desserts are not especially French but they are simple and satisfying. Apple and rhubarb crumble is a touch soggy but is served with the richest and most buttery quenelle of cream that you will ever taste. Alternatively try the mousse au chocolat which is served in an old fashioned sundae glass with curls of dark chocolate adorning the silky mousse.
Cafe du Marche is a great place to secret yourself away for an afternoon or evening. The wine list is extensive although with an emphasis on French wine and stronger in relation to whites than reds. Service is attentive but Cafe du Marche maintains a relaxed atmosphere and manages to feel homely rather than stuffy.
Details: 22 Charterhouse Square, Charterhouse Mews, Smithfield, EC1M 6AH (Ph 020 7608 1609)