LE CAFÉ ANGLAIS
Roll your cart back up the aisle
Kiss the checkout girls goodbye
Foodie things I’ve never done, Number One in a list of thousands: I’ve never been to KP (or Kensington Place as civilians know it). Strange really as during its heyday in the late late eighties and early early nineties I use to live not far away and used to walk past it every day. Fast forward almost twenty years and I’ve now rectified this gap in my restaurant CV and a chance to see what Chef Rowley Leigh’s cooking er…chops are like by visiting the latest London restaurant opening Le Café Anglais.
Whiteleys in Bayswater was London’s first departure store in the 19th century. It closed in the early eighties and re-opened as a shopping centre in the late eighties. I particularly remember the large Tower Records store where I spent a large amount of money on the enormo box set that is the Keith Jarret Sun Bear Concerts (well I liked it) which was promptly stolen when I’d only reached disc number 11. This was my first visit for years and it seemed well, not exactly run down but very quiet with numerous concessions not taken up. A place in decline ? It’s rather incongruous then to find a large upmarket restaurant in among the chains eateries with a smattering of mallrats and Bayswater hoodies loitering outside.
I was a littler early for my res so I had a cocktail at All Star Lanes a new bowling alley just outside Whiteleys. If you can ignore the brain-dead and surly staff, the shrieks of hen parties and the garish décor that will be dated by tomorrow you’ll get an ok cocktail or more interestingly one of a large list of American Whiskeys although to be honest you’d be better off (financially and spiritually) giving this place a miss and taking a large glug of cold gin before you leave home.
Ignoring the bizarre Gilgamesh I don’t think I’ve seen such a big restaurant for some time. There must be almost 200 covers. It’s also very attractive - all art deco and cream upholstery. The pass and kitchen are open for all to see and there is a big vertical grill on show. Nice.
The menu is pretty good too – it looks like Rowley Leigh has made a list of every one of his favouritest dishes and put them on a menu. There’s Hors D’Ouevres (when was the last time you saw that on a menu). Starters proper like Oysters, Fonduta, Pike Boudin, Crab Spaghetti, Omelettes, Consommé. Main course Fish, Roasts, a decent selection of Game, Cheeses etc. etc. Even with 50% reduction there’s more on the menu than even a Hermano could manage.
Of my trio of HDs the star dish was the Salsify Fritters. The slightly al dente Salsify came cocooned in a light and crisp tempura-like cover. It came with a little unassertive aioli dip. The eggs in my Oeuf en Gelee and Kipper Pate were both cooked perfectly but unfortunately a bit before service. So they had a nice runny yolk and a firm white. But they were cold. As was the Kipper Pate which tasted better once chambred.
The Pike Boudin which came next should have been another star dish but didn’t taste much of the advertised fish. The texture was ok: nice and light but there was an unpleasant tough brown membrane on the base where the sausage had been baked. The Beurre Blanc could have been a bit richer as well. A bit of a disappointment but then I suppose that’s what soft opening are about.
Having had some good Grouse at Patterson’s a week ago I was in the mood for some more. This one came as the whole roasted (pink going on rare) bird with Bread Sauce, Game Chips and a little pot of gravy. The restaurant’s order of sharp knives hadn’t arrived so I struggled with my bird for a bit (a pretty frequent problem) before sending it back to be carved properly. Once the fowl had been dismembered this dish was spot-on. The Grouse had been properly hung - about a week which, for me, is just enough so that the taste of the flesh isn’t overpowered. The bread sauce was smooth and nicely clovey and Mr Leigh obviously had me down as some sort of lardy given the two bowls of crisp Game Chips I got. Dear reader, I failed to finish the lot.
Oh I also had some Ceps Bordelaise which were a bit lacking in the taste department.
The ice cream should have been a lot better.
Despite my misgivings about the food and the slightly uneven service I really enjoyed myself. There was a sense of occasion about my meal there which I didn’t get at some of the recent and more food-focused restaurant openings. The errors with the food should be straightforward to remedy and the large number of covers should make it easier to get a reservation. Of course once the food prices double the hitches will need to be ironed out tout de suite if Le Café Anglais is not going to end up going the way of Whiteleys and ending up a big fat White Elephant.