Le Restaurant de Paul
We really should open this review with a bit of context: a quick mention of Paul, and the plethora of little delights offered by its bakeries across the capital come to mind. Something about them being the face of French baking in London, and then a sensory impression of that old favourite: the smell of fresh bread wafting out through the cold morning air. Chances are, though, you know all that. To any great lover of food in the capital, that iconic monochrome façade is a rather familiar sight.
So imagine our delight when we first heard that the Covent Garden branch was launching a restaurant on their existing premises. Nestled behind the bakery, its paneled walls and parquet flooring are a stylish homage to French design. Short of accordion music playing in the background, it couldn’t be more stereotypically Parisian, but there’s a sense of playful self-referential whimsy that makes the whole thing rather charming. Arriving as we did on a balmy summer’s evening, it was rather easy to give into the fantasy and be transported across the channel – for a few hours at least.
The bustle of Covent Garden gently melted away in the amicable atmosphere, and the mood was surprisingly peaceful as we pored over the menu. It’s filled with French classics and, after a few agonising moments of indecision, we ended up getting a bit of everything. If the waiter disapproved of our impromptu creation of French tapas, he showed no sign of it, bringing extra plates and cutlery with a gracious smile. He was prompt, agreeable and not afraid to engage in a little humour, a welcome change from the stiff automatons that you’ll often find working in busy chains.
The charcuterie platter swiftly arrived, pretty as picture and served on a simple wooden board peppered with pickled baby onions. The downfall of many such offerings is their meagre portions and limited variety, but thankfully Paul falls into neither trap. Generous slices of jambon cru, coppa, rosette, terrine, smoked duck breast and saucisson were all paired with some of the gorgeous crusty bread from next door. A baked pot of
Petit Camembert was a sensual delight: strands of molten cheese spread thickly across crisp toast and flavoured with robust notes of garlic and rosemary.
Confit de Canard aux Olives was stunningly tender, the slightest touch of our fork reducing it to ribbons of rich, dark meat. Like all great French cooking, it managed to bring a handful of strong flavours and ingredients together in a harmonious dish with seemingly effortless ease. In this case, a pile of creamy mash, a splash of red wine sauce and a smattering of salty black olives all add depth and subtle contrast to the shreds of fatty duck. Coq au Vin followed suit, delighting us with an unbeatable trio of chicken, bacon and red wine. It too came with mash, but you’d be mad not to order another side of crusty bread to dip into the fatty broth. Both potato based sides – Gratin Dauphinois and Frites –were sadly a little over salted, but were otherwise pleasingly indulgent. A bowl of Sauteed Spinach added a much needed burst of freshness to proceedings, cutting through the fatty sauces and meats with its clean minerality.
The desserts arrived to unabashedly greedy eyes. This is, after all, a restaurant attached to an excellent patisserie. We had high expectations and started with a classic: Lemon Cream Tartelette. A crisp pastry base got us off to a good start and offered a perfect contrast to the creamy lemon mixture generously spread inside. If anything, the filling was a tad too buttery, lacking that truly sharp lemon zing. As complaints go though, it’s a trifling one, an issue of personal preference: we certainly wouldn’t hold it against them. Next came the Moelleux Chocolat. Combining the sweet richness of a brownie with a considerable fluffier texture, it was a surprisingly light offering that’s sure to satisfy the chocoholics. Finally, Brioche Perdue: crisp, buttery toast with a fluffy middle, sweet crème anglaise and apricot coulis topping. It was creamy, rich and decidedly indulgent, but the apricot added a perfect touch of fruity acidity and stopped it from becoming sickly. It was easily the best of our three desserts, and a perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable evening of French perfection
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
To book a table at Le Restaurant de Paul, 29 Bedford St London WC2E 9ED, call 020 7836 3304 or visit here.