The sun was beating down on central London and it was too blinking hot to be anywhere near large amounts of concrete and tarmac. On top of that, I’d taken a wrong turn while trying a cunning dodge from Goodge Street to the restaurant on Garrick Street which meant I’d upped my pace (to be on time) and begun to perspire. But unlike the industrial-style cooling down you get from stepping into a hypermarket full of whirring freezers, this French restaurant gets its customers chilled the old-fashioned way.
It started with a friendly welcome and a seating choice: classic-bistro-style-but-still-sun-kissed table upstairs; or more intimate table setting downstairs, many in alcoves, with candles and semi-darkness reminiscent of a medieval tavern (aside from the customers using laptops, that is). The archetypal spiral staircase, and the chance to escape the sun, swung it for me and I headed to the intriguing lower floor of the restaurant, my eyes darting around the wall covered with local theatre posters as I went. My transition to Zen-chill was completed by the arrival of a good friend, swiftly followed by two chilled glasses of Kir Royal (naturellement).
Food-wise, some changes have been made at this French restaurant in recent times. The amiable new owner, Charles, has gone back to his Toulouse roots to jazz up the menu with a few favourites from his backyard, and I don’t just mean those tasty sausages (a speciality here, served with Puy lentils, seeing as you ask).
I kicked things off with a juicy charcuterie loaded with meat from south-west France and a flavoursome pate so coarse it almost started swearing at me. While I was gazing at various scenes from across the Channel off to my left, and planning my next holiday in France, my companion continued the trend by pointing to a duck confit and those white lingots beans made famous by the Toulouse Cassoulet, cooked in goose fat. It was a rich delight with lovely tender meat, although a slightly more generous helping of the duck wouldn’t have gone amiss.
But those steaks; oh, those steaks. They’ve got to be done properly, especially if you want to be on the list of top restaurant to ‘go French’ in London. And Le Garrick got a big tick in that box. I did much head-scratching in the epic contest between the sirloin, the onglet and the rib-eye but the latter eventually won the day. It probably had something to do with wanting the punchy Domaine Gigondan Syrah I’d ordered to be consumed alongside a still-on-the-bone cut of meat that would do it justice. The medium-rare steak was that seductive shade of pink and, alongside some seriously crispy frites, this was a main course to give even the hungriest Frenchman, or Londoner, a run for his money.
I’m not making the mistake in this review of failing to leave room for dessert because happily I just managed to avoid that self-same error at Le Garrick. I love a selection of fine fromages with a passion but, even with my taste buds fully awakened by the swiftly devoured entrecote, I am a seasoned enough London restaurant critic to know when my tummy is nearing full. My saviour came in sliced form with crème fraîche, another French classic: the tarte au citron. And that fella, mes amis, was a symphony of zingy, zesty and light. Hats off guys; you got that homemade treat absolutely spot on.
So how to sum up this French corner of Covent Garden? Well, selfishly, it’d have to be my journey from Stressed Eric to Arthur Le Chilled. But for you, dear reader, Le Garrick would make a great date venue and is parfait for lovers of French food who want to dine out in the heart of the West End. As they might say at the nearby venues in Theatreland: Encore!
Arthur Browne (11 07 2011)