One of the pleasures of a holiday in France is simple, classic meals in inexpensive local restaurants serving the same dishes they have been serving for generations. They are all about delicious food; familiar rather than innovative. Service is warm and friendly and you wish you could visit more often. You feel envious of the locals who are able to enjoy such a place as their neighbourhood joint.
Having often been disappointed by French restaurants in London I no longer expect to come across a place like this here in the UK. Even less so in the Tourist Heartland between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. So it was with a little trepidation that I accepted an invitation to visit Le Garrick, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The offering is simple – classic regional French food in a cosy, casual setting. Reading the menu is a stroll down memory lane for any of a hundred happy trips to France over the years.
There are a few tables upstairs but most are down a (rather terrifying) spiral staircase; the underground space is atmospheric but too dark for me, especially at our table which lacks an overhead light anywhere close by. Eating by candlelight may be romantic but when it’s difficult to read the menu, it’s time to dial it up just a notch or two.
My little point and shoot camera struggled as much as we did. The only one that could “see” at all was my SLR using my 50mm lens wide open at f1.8 – sorry, that’s for fellow camera geeks! Luckily, the wonders of technology allows me to pull the details out and make the colour less candlelight orange, so you can actually see what we ordered much better than we could!
A basket of bread. Freshly cut so the surfaces are still soft – should go without saying but is so often not the case!
La Soupe à L’Oignon (£4.95) is excellent. Full of all the really deep beefy flavours and dark, dark onion that you could ask for. Top marks.
The presentation of the Foie Gras Du Sud Ouest (£8.95) could be a little slicker – I’m not looking for extra frills on the dish but there’s something a little forlorn about an enormous plate with a slice of terrine at one end and two pieces of toast at the other. Of course, that’s irrelevant next to taste and texture, which are very good indeed and I love the homemade fig jam as well.
We both order steaks – the Onglet Sauce Au Poivre (£12.50) for Pete and the Faux Filet Sauce au Béarnaise (£17.95) for me. All the steaks can be ordered with either pepper sauce or Béarnaise, by the way.
The service is let down a little by the steaks being delivered and identified by the sauces on the plate and not the cut of steak, so I accept the one with Béarnaise and Pete the one with pepper. Since they’ve put the wrong sauce on both plates, it takes us a few moments to notice the error and swap back, which is fine when dining with your partner or close friends, but less so if you don’t know your companions quite well enough to swap once you’ve already started eating.
That minor quibble aside, the steaks are tasty and the sauces particularly so. (Be warned, the Béarnaise is made with plenty of tarragon so choose pepper if you can’t handle a heavy punch of aniseed). We assume the anaemic-looking fries must surely be undercooked but actually, they are perfect to eat.
We stick to personal favourites for dessert with a Crème brulée (£5.50) and the Petit pot au chocolat (£6.95).
Pete’s enthusiastic about the generous layer of properly bruléed sugar on top but feels the texture of the custard is closer to what you’d usually find in a crème caramel, a little too firm for his preference. Tasty though.
My pudd has that splendid almost chewy texture of a really dense pot au chocolat. It’s a touch too sweet for me, but my chocolate tastes have changed so much over the years. I’d prefer a little more bitterness from a good dark chocolate. It’s very nice though, and we finish the lot!
Throughout, service is friendly and warm to all tables, with the staff engaging in friendly banter with everyone, newcomers and regulars alike. I like that!
The bill is more reasonable than I expected for both the location and the quality of food. With our dinner we have a 500 ml carafe of red (wines are reasonably priced for London) and Pete has a Bruichladdich whisky instead of coffee. Our bill comes to just over £80 plus service. Of course that’s more than you’d pay for the equivalent in a rural neighbourhood restaurant in France, but property rents, rates, wages and food costs are much higher here too.
We are happy to have discovered a restaurant that does credit to our familiar French favourites and will definitely be back soon.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Garrick restaurant.