In one of the chichi areas of South Kensington, next to Chanel and directly opposite Bibendum, this is a traditional style French brasserie. South Kensington is a popular area with French ex-pats. L’Institut Francais is just up the road as is the Lycee and this brasserie, the ‘first all day brasserie in London’ is modelled on the great Parisian versions. Rather sadly, so is a well known chain of restaurants and my companion’s first comment was ‘It looks just like Café Rouge’. Well, sort of. The colour scheme at La Brasserie was pretty much identical, but there were none of the kitschy pictures and the tables had tablecloths (paper over cloth) and cloth napkins. And, thankfully, the wine list and menu at La Brasserie was much, much more aligned with a traditional French brasserie.
We arrived for Lunch on a Thursday at about 12.45, and the brasserie was busy, though not over full. The new bar is a splendid granite topped affair that dominates one half of the room and I suspect comes to its own in the evening when cocktails are served. The menu is typical French brasserie fare, although this isn’t the place to come for a cheap bite, unless you stick to the Prix Fixe lunch (just over £16 for two courses). We both ordered fish starters and decided to share the chateaubriand. Steak frites is probably the most traditional of brasserie dishes so in my view a good test of the venue.
In typical Parisian brasserie style the La Brasserie wine list is entirely French and, other than the house wine (available by the glass, pichet or bottle) predominantly over £30 a bottle. But it’s a lovely selection of French wines and our 2002 Bordeaux was a relatively modest £46 for what was a very well-aged and rounded wine.
My salmon tartare was a very traditional affair. Thin slices of cucumber dressed with vinegar accompanied a mound of chopped fresh and smoked salmon with mayonnaise. Very pleasant. My companion chose the Coquilles St Jacques served on a pea puree with a garnish of a balsamic red pepper reduction. Again classic brasserie fare which didn’t disappoint. The scallops were beautifully seared, plump affairs that he could eat with a fork.
Our chateaubriand arrived perfectly cooked. The very fresh Béarnaise was served in a jug on the side and our waiter offered us a choice of mustards. We were slightly disappointed not to have the steak cut at the table, but that didn’t detract from the meat itself. It’s also fair to say that it improved as we ate perhaps suggesting it should have rested for a few minutes longer before being cut. But, it was well flavoured and very tender. Fries on the side were just a little disappointing, perhaps because we’ve all got used to gourmet chips cooked in duck fat. I would have been happier with a few game chips or with something just a little crunchier. Our side salad had been forgotten but when we asked, the staff were quick to oblige with a large bowl of mixed leaves which included chicory and frissee, which took me right back to the summers I spent in Lyons, Paris and the French Alps.
By now I was very full so I could only look at the dessert menu. My companion chose the ginger crème brulee which was he thoroughly enjoyed, while I could only look on, drinking coffee and eating mint chocolates!
This is a very traditional Brasserie. Occasional updates to the menu were countered with a few disappointments where tradition perhaps could have given way to change in tastes (in the fries for example). It’s not cheap, with main courses around £20 upward and starters ranging from around £7 to £14. But, that’s partly location driven. Now, I am a firm believer that traditional food has its place. There are times when I really want a good chateaubriand, when I simply don’t want a foodie fest with test tubes and dry ice. And for those times, I’d recommend La Brasserie. Our service was excellent – and the meal was what I had expected. Yes, I’d go back, especially while the Monday night special of a Chateaubriand for 2 with accompaniments at just under £40 is still on.
We ate at La Brasserie as guests.
272 Brompton Road
(020) 7584 1668