Uk news In praise of: The French House London news
MetiNews.Com - Even in a year that has run like one long advert for the uselessness of best-laid plans, I somehow couldn’t quite resist getting ahead of myself. Or, to put it another way: long before I’d actually made my way into Soho for my grand return to the field of professional gluttony, I spent quite a bit of time constructing my own elaborate fantasy version of exactly how it would
Breaking News ! ES Lifestyle newsletter The latest lifestyle, fashion and travel trends Enter your email address Continue Please enter an email address Email address is invalid Fill out this field Email address is invalid You already have an account. Please log in. Register with your social account or click here to log in I would like to receive trends and interviews from fashion, lifestyle to travel every week, by email Update newsletter preferences Even in a year that has run like one long advert for the uselessness of best-laid plans, I somehow couldn’t quite resist getting ahead of myself. Or, to put it another way: long before I’d actually made my way into Soho for my grand return to the field of professional gluttony, I spent quite a bit of time constructing my own elaborate fantasy version of exactly how it would all play out. I would, I decided, settle at a newly installed outdoor table somewhere so I could better appreciate the heroic, business-saving pedestrianisation initiative they’re calling the Soho Summer Street Festival. I’d be sitting among reunited mates sipping resuscitative Bar Italia espressos, slurping Koya cold udon noodles or yanking down face masks to trade grins and clink frosted glasses of crémant. The mood would be one of thrumming, but scrupulously distanced, celebration; of Soho’s timely rebirth as an open-air culinary playground, sprawled beneath a warm continental sun. Yes, as long as the weather stayed dry — which it absolutely would, considering we were at the shades-in-early-autumn stage of a mostly sweltering summer — everything would go completely to plan. And, well, you will know where this is heading by now, won’t you? Oh so Soho: The French House has been a reassuring fixture of W1 hospitality for more than a century You will know that, in an inevitably 2020 turn of events, not only did it rain but it absolutely hurled it down. All of which meant that, as I made my sopping way along Old Compton Street, most of what I saw was damp-masked shoppers, raindrops plopping on to stacks of outdoor chairs that wouldn’t be needed when traffic restrictions came into force at 5pm and hardy day drinkers huddled under the awnings at Balans. It was a festival of sorts, I suppose, but only in the sense that it mainly consisted of people beneath improvised shelter combating adverse weather conditions with doggedness and alcohol. “This was one of the more gorgeously unforgettable, faith-restoring meals I’ve eaten in this deeply weird year” Jimi Famurewa Still, look, the important point of all this is that this auspicious, soggy start didn’t matter. Because what followed was, unquestionably, one of the more gorgeously unforgettable, faith-restoring meals that I’ve eaten in this deeply weird year. Part of this is that I’m probably still at the point when leaving the house for a meal feels like a thrilling novelty (ask me some time about the day I genuinely felt almost moved to tears by my first post-lockdown Pret salad). But mostly, I think, it was the simple fact that my chosen destination was The French House: a legitimate Soho icon that, though it has stood on its terraced Dean Street patch for more than a century, has a mix of clattery bonhomie, savagely delicious food and human connection that feels especially attuned to the here and now. Read more The do's and don'ts of dining out None of this is exactly news, of course. The French’s elegantly wasted reputation (particularly in its post-war period under the rule of walrus-moustached Belgian landlord Gaston Berlemont) has long preceded it. And if you have worked near Soho or in the creative industries then you will doubtless have had someone pubsplain all the relevant trivia to you: the stories of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon propping up the bar; the old yarn about a hammered Dylan Thomas accidentally leaving an early manuscript of Under Milk Wood beneath his chair; the fabled century-old diktat that prohibits beer being served in anything bigger than a half-pint glass (a beloved piece of obstinance that has now been controversially relaxed, thanks to Covid Age directives about reducing customer interactions). It is, even now, remarkably unchanged. After shuffling in from the rain I met my wife there and — despite having a booking in the upstairs dining room — we settled at a high table by the big open windows to get the full, immersive hit of life happening both out on the puddled streets and in the murmuring, busy sanctum of the pub. Read more Outdoor eating: Our pick of the restaurants with al fresco terraces Soho residents of a certain vintage rule here (Lesley Lewis, the current landlord and a former snake-wielding cabaret performer, sat at the bar beside legendary 93-year-old regular Dotty).
. The floor is mesmerically run by a brigade of fierce, funny women in perpetual motion and, while there is no music, the soundtrack is a soothing wave of collective, pub-wide conversation and occasional, shouted cries of ‘sit DOWN!’ to the lacquered old boys still grappling with the new table service-only rules.
There is comfort courtesy of the food, too. Neil Borthwick took over the kitchen in late 2018 — the latest in a crazily impressive roster of former French House chefs that includes St John’s Fergus Henderson, Rochelle Canteen’s Melanie Arnold and Florence Knight in her Polpetto days. Borthwick deals in a familiar mode of hearty, Gallic-inflected Britishness, unabashed offal lust and gracefully rendered pastry classics.
High-gloss steak tartare — the briny, measuredly seasoned sort that doesn’t try to deploy a great dousing of Tabasco to hide the fact it is a brutish pile of uncooked cow — flowed elegantly into the crunching, messy glory of confit garlic cloves squished on to goats cheese-smeared toast. Roast cod (aboard a piquant, Anton Ego-worthy ratatouille) came perfectly cooked and bearing a chopped lawn of tarragon on its butter-crackled skin. Isle of Wight tomato salad, meanwhile — a carefully layered kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, hefty golden croutons and oil-dribbled green leaves — hit the palate as a building chime of subtle, late-summer sweetness.
In pickier times I may have been more bothered by the slightly obstructive toughness of the charred crackling squares along the edge of my Duroc pork chop. But there was ample happy distraction in the form of its accompanying anise-laced banger of a yellow tomato chutney. The climactic double act of a tart, vividly wrought shared slice of summer pudding and half a dozen oven-warm madeleines packing ambrosial lightness and a brightening waft of citrus brought equal joy. It is food, ultimately, that calls for the hands and speaks to the soul. And though there was much talk from staff of the bumpy, corona-coaster uncertainties ahead — of the possibilities of another lockdown, and the viability of the plan to extend the Street Festival’s pedestrianisation into a doubtlessly chilly October — a recent £80,000 crowdfund and an amenable landlord mean The French is alive and kicking.
By the time we admitted the rain probably wouldn’t let up and called for the bill, Dotty had toddled off (trailed by stories of her habit of arriving at Soho pubs bearing her own bottle of Schweppes tonic), two rumpled guys by the bar had started belting out an old music hall number and a group of reunited work colleagues were hunkering down beneath the umbrellas outside for hungrily sucked cigarettes and white wine. It was, in other words, The French as it always has been. And it struck me that this continuity — this idea of the same walls and the same inclusive, mischievous values upheld across generations by some of the same people — seems especially rare and precious at a time when the fragility of practically everything else in our lives has been revealed.
It gives you hope, ultimately. Because if food this good, and an atmosphere this unique, can be collectively fostered and protected through wars, pandemics and multiple financial crashes, then maybe, just maybe, we can get through whatever lies around the corner, defiantly raising a half-pint of something cold.
The French House
1 Confit garlic £7.50
1 Tomato salad £9
1 Pork chop £23
1 Cod £21
1 Small steak tartare £9
1 Frites £4
1 Summer pudding £8
1 Half a dozen madeleines £4.50
4 French House lagers £12
49 Dean Street, Soho, W1 (020 3985 7603; frenchhousesoho.com)
Source = MetiNews.Com