The French Café
16-18 Ritherdon Road, Balham SW17 8QD
The French Café
Decent space between the tables
It is easy to miss the French Café despite its location close to the busy Balham High Road. It is somewhat hidden by Locale restaurant located at the corner of the road. I think we would never have found it if Pablo (the owner and chef at Bellevue Rendez-vous) did not tell us about it when we asked for good restaurants recommendation. This fairly new restaurant (apparently they opened in August 2009) was a great discovery. We tried to go during the weekend but it was all booked. On our second try during the week at lunch time it was fine.
As starters we had the potage du jour (homemade vegetable soup of the day served with warm crusty bread – £3.90) and the friture de camembert (£5.75) and as main courses we ordered the filet de loup de mer (pan fried sea bass with butter sauce, crushed new potatoes and spinach – £12.95) and the saucisses de Toulouse avec sauce à l’échalote (Toulouse sausages – £9.95). As drinks, we had a bottle of water (£2.85) and a glass of red wine (Bergerie de la Bastide 2008 – £3.50) which was decent. The desserts were a croissant bread & butter pudding (£3.75) and a chocolate truffle (£3.95). The espresso was only £1.50.
Potage du jour
The soup was not the best I have had. In its favour, it was very hot and stayed that way to the end of the bowl. But its flavour was a bit bland, giving the impression that it was probably microwaved, and the texture was just a little rough. It could also have benefited from a bit of seasoning. The bread it was served with was not exactly the “crusty” sliced baguette I’d been imagining, and was served without butter (which is typically french, and fine – but then it needs to be bread with a bit more flavour, and seasoned soup to match). So overall, the soup was a bit disappointing, and not really up to restaurant quality, even if it was well priced.
Friture de camembert
The friture de camembert was quite good. The breadcrumb was nicely fried and the camembert was perfectly melting. I chose this starter because it came with plum tomato jam which is something I never had with camembert and I was curious about it. It was a little surprising but not bad at all although I would have prefered it with cranberry sauce.
The main courses
Filet de loup de mer
My criticism of the soup was forgotten with the main course of pan fried sea bass. This dish was superbly executed, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and served with perfectly cooked new potatoes and spinach. It was big, and it was hot – staying so right to the end. I’d return for this dish alone, and feel it was worth every cent of its £12.95 price tag.
Saucisses de Toulouse
The saucisses de Toulouse were good too with a sweet brown sauce. There were 3 of them displayed on a large portion of garlic creamed potatoes with shallot sauce. It was nice I had not only the possibility to have mustard to go with it, but also the choice between English and French mustard. I chose the French one and it was quite a strong one which I wanted. It was seriously a big meal, even for me! I think it was the first time I had 3 sausages, usually it is 2 when ordering in pubs etc. That said, it was a very welcome meal in this cold rainy winter time.
Truffes au chocolat
The truffes au chocolat was also excellent. Again it was large, but not at all oversweet and very nicely presented with liquid cream and chocolate sauce, offset with fresh strawberry.
Croissant bread & butter pudding
The croissant bread & butter pudding was delicious. Actually I am not into bread pudding at all but since it was based on croissant bread I had to try it. It was buttery of course but not too sweet and it came with cream and strawberry sauce.
Good coffee but slightly burnt
Cost and conclusion: it was just over £48 service charge not included. No “optional” service charge already included in the total bill which is nice and should be the norm. Here at the French Café it is left at the discretion of the customers. We really like that and of course we tipped as the service was fine. Do not forget to bring some change for the service if you pay with a credit card as there was no possibility to add the service charge. With the exception of the soup, the meals were quite good, nicely presented and very well priced. You can have a 2 course set menu for £9.95 too which is an excellent value for money. Highly recommended!