The French Café in Balham
Feb 26th, 2010 by Olivier

The French Café
16-18 Ritherdon Road, Balham SW17 8QD

The French Café

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.

The starters

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.

The desserts

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!

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Bistro1 restaurant Covent Garden
Feb 24th, 2010 by Olivier

Bistro1 restaurant
33 Southampton Street
Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7HE

Bistro1 Covent Garden

Bistro 1 covers two floors – with the upper floor being a bit more spacious than the ground floor. The meals are quite cheap for this very touristic area of London with 2 courses for £6.90 or 3 courses for £7.90 so my expectation was not high. In fact I was quite pleasantly surprised by the food, which was quite decent especially at this price.

Deep-fried spicy chicken on skewers

The spicy chicken on skewers came with a fairly plain salad, but it was still quite fresh and had a pleasant enough dressing. The chicken was very nicley done though, being well cooked but not dry as is a common risk with chicken cooked on skewers. The garlic yoghurt dip was not especially garlicky, but it was certainly spicy. Overall, a dish exceeding expectation.

Fillet of sea bream

The main course was sea bream topping garlic mashed potato. The potato itself was perhaps just a little on the mushy side, though it’s flavour was good. The fish was very nicely cooked and seasoned – certainly with a better flavour than presentation suggested.

Apple tarte tartin

Dessert was the weakest dish, being a bit excessively sweet and a little overcooked.

Cost & conclusion: I was not the one paying the bill, but 3 courses for £7.90 is hard to complain about. There were about 14 of us together at lunch, which is a group size that most restaurants have trouble to cope with (it is hard to get the same standard of food in a large group as you get in smaller groups). Bistro 1 did this pretty well, and the service was both speedy and polite. Overall, a positive experience and I’d eat here again.

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Pizza Express Wimbledon Broadway SW19 1RH
Feb 18th, 2010 by Olivier

Pizza Express Wimbledon Broadway
104 The Broadway
London SW19 1RH

Pizza Express Wimbledon

Great Peroni beer

We tried to walk home from Richmond Park but got lost after Wimbledon Common so we decided to stop at Pizza Express for a quick diner. We were quite tired with all the camera gear we had to carry. As starters we had a formaggio bread and a garlic bread with mozzarella, they were followed by the pizza Romana Al Tirolo and the pizza Romana La Reine. We also had two glasses of tap water (free) and a bottle of Peroni beer which was served nicely cold.

Formaggio bread

Garlic bread with mozzarella

The starters were good, not heavy at all as we might have expected. They are like mini pizzas but we were hungry so it wasn’t a problem eating pizzas again but as a main course.

The two pizzas with the Romana bases

Pizza Romana la Reine

Pizza Romana Al Tirolo

Garlic oil and spicy oil

We had the Romana bases for our two pizzas, which means their bases were stretched thinner for a crispier pizza. The pizza Al Tirolo was quite nice with creamy cheese, mushrooms, parsley and some ham. The base was nice and crispy despite the garlic oil on it. The pizza La Reine (prosciutto cotto ham, olives and mushrooms) was OK, but a bit let down by the ham, which was rather tasteless despite being the main topping.

Cost and conclusion: for about £30 service charge not included it was a good value for money. We do appreciate the fact they didn’t include the “optional” 12.5% service charge in the bill and left it to our discretion. Pizza Express is a decent pizzeria chain and so far we have not had bad experiences with them. Actually they are a lot better than some pizzerias we tried!

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The Fat Delicatessen in Balham, London
Feb 9th, 2010 by Olivier

The Fat Delicatessen
7 Chestnut Grove
London SW12 8JA

The Fat Delicatessen

The Fat Delicatessen

The Fat Delicatessen is a deli and a restaurant located in Balham next to the tube station. It can feel strange to have people looking at packages of tea or bisdcuits located on shelves against the wall past your table but it didn’t bother us. If you want to have peace, try to go to the tables at the far end of the deli.

Cups of tea

As starters we ordered the winter soup (£4) and the chorizo picante (£3.25). Other interesting snacks I hesitated to chose from were the pork crackling with a glass of Fino Sherry and the hot green padron peppers. As main courses we had the confit belly of pork with creamed rosemary fagioli (£6.95) and a black pudding with caramelised apples (£5.75). They had an interesting dish of snails with chorizo mash (£6.25) but we were not brave enough for that kind of meal… As drinks we had two cups of tea (£3.20) to help us defrost on a cold day first, and a glass of red wine (£4.65). For desserts we chose the fruit crumble (£3.50) and a white chocolate cheesecake (£3.50).

The winter soup

The winter soup was quite good. It arrived piping hot, served with some fresh wholegrain bread that had a nice nutty flavour. The soup itself was a thick mix of a range of winter vegetables. The only things missing were some butter for the bread, and possibly some salt and pepper in case you wanted to season the soup (though it was fine as it came). Soup like this is great comfort food for winter weather.

Chorizo picante

The chorizo picante came very hot and was good but just too much for one person. The grease got me pretty quickly because of the amount of chorizo. On a small portion, it is a nice meal.

The two main courses

The two main courses

The pork belly

The pork belly was very good. A nice thick slice of pork belly, with nicely crisp crackling and accompanied by some haricot beans in a creamy sauce. The pork here is amongst the best I’ve had in London, rivaling the Ship Tavern (and miles ahead of the nasty thing I once had at Terroirs). Certainly worth trying if you’re in the area.

Black pudding with caramelised apples

The black pudding with caramelised apples was huge. It is actually about the same portion they are selling in the deli area. The taste was good, a little on the strong and too rich side but well counter balanced by the full bodied red wine fortunately. Not bad at all (I even ordered some of it after the lunch for cooking at home!) but after the chorizo it was a little too much.

Fruit crumble

The fruit crumble wasn’t quite up to the same standard as the starter and main courses. In its favour is that it was clearly oven heated to order. The downside is that it needed another few minutes, as it wasn’t quite warm all the way through. The fruit was mainly plums, which were very good. But I found the topping, the crumble, just too sweet. This was just brown sugar – but would have been much better if mixed with flour and butter which, aside from making it more crumbly, would have reduced the sweetness to manageable levels. With that small addition, it would have been an excellent dessert.

White chocolate cheesecake

The white chocolate cheesecake was massive, once again, and unfortunately too sweet. A quarter of it with some strong tea or coffee would have been fine but not in that amount. Also, some sour red fruit coulis would have been welcome.

Cost and conclusion: it was £34.80 which was well priced, and the service was friendly and extremely polite. We would gladly recommended it. Just beware of the huge portions!

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