Thursday, 30 July 2015

Benoit

Another weekend and another Paris trip. Its too temptingly easy isn't it when you can hop on a train early in the morning, have a snooze then wake up in Paris. Only problem with such an early start is the rumbly tummy you have by the time you arrive but then Paris is full of solutions to that particular problem. 



I had been intrigued by Benoit for a while so slipped a late lunch into the itinerary. Every Parisian lunch should begin with Champagne, there ought to be some kind of law in my opinion. This particular Champagne was Alain Ducasse's house champagne.



I have to admit that until the Champagne list I hadn't realised the Ducasse connection with Benoit. He seems to have swooped in and rescued various ailing old French brasseries and stamped his mark on them, Benoit being one of them. Aux Lyonnais being another good example of his extending Parisian empire.  Benoit was apparently opened in 1912 by the Petit family and stayed in their hands until 2005 which is a pretty impressive feat. It was apparently originally frequented by the traders and artists of Les Halles before the market moved locations. I suspect it was rather more basic in those days though. 

I never fail to be utterly baffled by how Michelin awards its stars. Arguably, a massive pointer here is the fact that Benoit is owned by Alain Ducasse but surely Michelin wouldn't be so fickle as to award a star just because of a link to a non-present chef? Well, the first chunk of my meal really left me wondering just that....


Judging by Parisian standards a three course lunch menu for 39 Euros seems like rather good value, especially when you get a choice of three options per course. When a plate of giant gougeres appears on the table it really seems like very little can be wrong with the world. 

The starter of oeuf cocotte with asparagus seems like proper comfort food. Sounds delicious, after all who in their right mind doesn't like the idea of dipping perfectly cooked new season asparagus into a thick, dippy egg yolk and seeing if you can make it to your mouth before it dribbles down your chin?

Problem is that in this dish the asparagus is laid in the bottom of the gratin dish before the eggs and cream are poured on top. This results in stringy, hard to cut asparagus that has let out a pool of vegetable water causing the eggs to curdle into a weird hybrid of boiled and scrambled. Perhaps the first ever example of where a 'deconstructed' dish would have been an infinite improvement on the sum total.

Onwards and upwards to a bavette of steak with shallots and a chard gratin. A bavette can always expect to be on the chewy side but flavoursome and this was perhaps a classic rendition of one. That's all Im going to say.



Either soggy gratins are a speciality of the chef or he hasn't ever tasted his finished dishes as a dish of swiss chard was also swimming with vegetable liquid beneath a thin crust. Some chips or other potato based carb wouldn't have gone amiss either.


Just as I was beginning to despair at having wasted one of my precious Parisian meal outings, along came dessert: Savarin a l'Armagnac. Basically a slice of a giant version of a rhum baba but with brandy instead. Vanilla Chantilly cream was served in giant spoonfuls from a massive silver dairy pitcher. It was the stuff that dreams are made of but highly inappropriate fodder for lunch. 




A bottle of 1987 Delord Armagnac was popped on the table and left there. Its up to you how much Armagnac you add but need less to say I might* (*did) add quite a lot. 

I like to think that persuading the male half of a table of six octogenarians from Chicago into ordering it was perhaps my main achievement of the day. The twinkle in one chap's eye as he leant in for the bottle for a second then third slosh of Armagnac made his wife's thin-lipped, disapproving glare all worthwhile (she ordered sorbet - of course she did. No one in their right mind orders sorbet at dessert time in Paris, or anywhere else for that matter.) I fully expect that within an hour of leaving Benoit at least one of the party was taking a well deserved nap. Which is probably what I should have done rather than spend the afternoon trawling the kitchenware shops of Les Halles spending a small fortune on random gadgets I can probably live without but that's another story.....



The lunch menu at Benoit is reasonable value (especially with the Euro exchange rate at the moment) but I think for a la carte there is much better food at a much better price in central Paris. Whilst most of it was all perfectly decent brasserie fare, only the savarin was particularly good and I wouldn't have given a Michelin star to any of it. That said it is one of the few places open on a Sunday night which is something of a minor miracle in Paris so don't rule it out altogether. 

Benoit
20, Rue Saint Martin, 75004 Paris

Monday, 27 July 2015

Starting the Jancis "Wine Grape" Challenge


1386 different grape varieties. In a possibly ill-advised moment of insouciance I agreed to a challenge as something of a now very belated New year's resolution. To find and drink wines made from each and every one of the grapes featured in Jancis Robinson's bible of oenology; "Wine Grapes". A fit of bravado committed me to the project when the lady herself confirmed via Twitter that she didn't think anyone else had done it before. 

I've since given quite a lot of thought to how to broach the endeavour (some might call it procrastination).  Someone suggested that I start with the easy ones but who wants to read about a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Pinot Grigio?  The obvious route would be alphabetically.  First in the book is ABBUOTO. Never heard of it. Typed it into Google, narrowed to the UK and came up with...... nothing. Hmmm this may be harder than I thought. Also, I don't want the whole project to stall whilst I'm searching for a particularly random grape.

Then I thought about doing it geographically; the book is indexed by country as well as alphabetically, if needs be this could be the impetus for lots of fabulous travel. Still, thats not happening any time soon so we've got to stick with whatever London can offer (which is- lets face it- a huge amount)

It became apparent that some rules need to be applied...

THE RULES
1. Due to the above, drink 'em in any old order
2) The wine should ideally be single varietal but if we get desperate then at least 70% dominant.  As you would expect a lot of these grapes are also predominantly used in blends as perhaps only a max 5% of the total mix. How am I going to objectively taste the product of the grape from 5%? (NB this may need to be revisited if things get desperate down the line)
3) The grape must be in the book as a standalone varietal. My first entry was going to be Melon a Queue Rouge from the Jura only to discover its not listed as a variety (apparently its really Chardonnay but there are plenty of arguments over that too). Yes, there are regional debates lasting generations over whether something is truly a different variety or just a mutation of an existing classic but we're taking Jancis's word for this as gospel so no arguments. 
4) One a week (or I'll still be looking for that Abbuoto on my deathbed)

Watch this space......

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Rex & Mariano

I remember when this place was a Vodka Revolution bar stuck down a grotty side street in Soho whose raison d'être was little more than for the drunken amorous encounters of late night revellers or an apparent double purpose as an emergency loo. Nothing good has ever happened in a Revolution bar. I recall it to be a dark, gloomy cavern offering dubiously flavoured vodkas by the stick. You would frankly have had to have paid me an awful lot of money to be found there. Scratch that, I just wouldn't. So, one rainy Saturday night I find my phone directing me down a dark alley with a little trepidation.




Times change and so does Soho thankfully. It was therefore an absolute joy to walk into light airy Rex and Mariano and gorge myself on a veritable feast of seafood. Yes, the obligatory industrial elements are there- shiny silver ducts and winding metres of cables snake the ceiling- but I love the unusual stone water fountain in the middle of the floor for washing fishy fingers. I also like the different stations around the outside of the walls providing different focal points. A bar with high stools and wine by the glass, a fresh seafood station shucking oysters and arranging raw prawns plus the open kitchen and preparation areas and grill meaning its a hive of activity even if the tables aren't packed. 




First things first- you need to love seafood. If you don't you're down to a choice of chorizo, chips and salad essentially. You also didn't really do your research before going so more fool you.  To be honest it comes as no surprise that the decor and menu are all polished- Rex & Mariano is the latest offering from the Goodman group. They have got meat so right at Goodman, a hybrid of meat and seafood at Beast and Burger & Lobster so why not seafood alone at R&M?


I broached the iPad ordering system with a narrowing of the eyes and some suspicion but was proven wrong (yes I said it, mark this moment- "I was wrong"). It is very easy to use and completely intuitive. It meant we could order one plate at a time and have a gradual stream of food coming to the table instead of in fixed bursts of starters and mains. You still get plenty of interaction with the staff too as they bring and clear plates and top up wine so its not as robotic and soulless as could be expected. Super efficient and I'd be very happy to see it deployed elsewhere. Loved it. 




Apparently so far one customer has left in horror but for the most part there have been no incidents where someone has accidentally ordered 20 plates of prawns. The most common problem is that people get eyes bigger than bellies and order too much food all in one go according to our waitress. If you do order too much the iPad warns you to hold fire for a bit.  We pitched in and got button pressing. 




First to the table was a salad of burrata and smoked tomatoes. I've never been a tomato aficionado and steer clear if I can but smoked tomato drew me in and knocked my socks off. A revelation that I can hoover up a plate of raw tomato with a smile on my face. The slight char to the burrata added depth to the creamy soft cheese. A great start and no seafood yet in sight.




On my second visit this had changed on the menu into a Caprese salad of beef tomatoes, burrata and basil. Although the latter was good it hadn't got the dimensions in flavour and texture of the smoked tomato/ grilled burrata combination. 

Mixed carpaccio of sea bream, salmon and tuna was generous but a little under seasoned for my taste. A pinch of salt and a bigger squeegee of lemon brought it roaring to life. Again on my second visit the menu had been tweaked and the salmon removed.



Lobster ceviche with yuzu, coriander and orange was one of the highlights of the meal. It remains as a stalwart of the menu although now without orange (to be honest the yuzu alone was enough) 



Scallops with cauliflower puree and watercress were perhaps the only let down of the meal. This is doing the meal as a whole a disservice though as there was nothing wrong with the plate- it was just overshadowed by everything else.  The cauliflower puree was essentially noticeable only for its absence. There was a smear of something a little bit white under the scallops but it had no discernable flavour. Whilst the scallops themselves were a good size and the roe flavoursome they would have been better with a little sea salt, some garlic and lemon slung on them. 


So often when you order crab cakes or fish cakes in a restaurant (or more especially in a pub) what you tend to receive is a potato cake through which you find thin strands of something that once ressembled seafood. not so here. These little babies are so full of crab that I wonder how they managed to bind them together but bind they do. Spring onion and seasoning bring the crab crawling back to life on the plate. Have them with the triple cooked chips which are exceptionally good and fluffy-centred. So good that my mouth still has the burns to prove it - I might have got a bit over enthusiastic. 





One of the dishes that R&M has become best known for is their Gambero Rosso whisked straight to London from the sun-drenched seas of Italy. These bright red chaps can either come raw or grilled with some lemon. Or both. The cooked ones were firm and zingy with citrus and transported me away from the rains beating down in Soho to the Amalfi coast. Then onto their raw brethren. Despite hearing rave reviews of the raw ones they didn't rock my world unfortunately. "They taste slimy" was the verdict from the other side of the table. Couldn't agree more and the slick of olive oil liberally coating them exacerbated this. Yes, they were sweet and juicy but the texture was too much of a deal breaker for us. They didn't come with lemon but should have done- they needed it.




Desserts are kept simple, lemon sorbet, pannacotta or semifreddo. 


A bottle of the ever reliable Dr Loosens Riesling at £32 was decent value and ideal with so many different types of seafood. Wines are sourced from Bibendum and apparently in some cases directly from vineyards leading to decent price points. This is rather contrary to the spirits though. Ask for a vodka tonic and you're immediately in for £11. At the more eye watering end of the spectrum for a casual restaurant I reckon. 


Highlight The lobster ceviche and the crab cakes. Both utterly delicious.

Summary Excellent value seafood in a fantastic Soho location. 

Would I go again? Without any doubt at all, definitely. A great option for eating truly good and healthy food that still feels like a real treat. 

Rex & Mariano
2, St Anne's Court. London. W1F 0AG

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Monday, 18 May 2015

Dip & Flip

Another day, another burger joint. Yawn. As soon as I saw the crazy moustachioed hipster man on BBC's The Restaurant Man last year introducing Southampton to the delights of drippy burgers in squishy brioche buns in a room of exposed brick walls it finally felt as though the burger's moment in the sun must be done. 

So it was with some surprise and a little burger fatigue that Dip & Flip popped up in Clapham Junction a while back now and, whilst conforming to some of the burger stereotypes- those brick walls and the no reservations policy being just two- the food is rather good. Despite the 'no reservations' issue I've never seen queues of the likes of Soho burger joints here despite the food being just as good. We arrived at 6.45pm on a Friday night and walked into a table although, granted, by 7.30 you'd have had a few minutes wait at the bar. 


My staunch belief that these posh fast food joints are not a time for exploring the world of wine was reinforced by the fact that they were completely out of red wine on a Friday night. Not a drop to be had. White wine seems wrong with a burger so double rum and coke it is then. Diet Coke because y'know you need to watch your weight.... (cheeseburger and fries don't count clearly). Craft beers and ciders are, of course, abundant being one of the compulsory ingredients for any successful burger joints these days. Apparently they rotate the offerings and on this occasion Local Battersea brewery Sambrooks is on tap. 


A bacon cheeseburger is decent value at £7.95. Excellent brioche bun, juicy, well textured burger patty and plenty of oozy cheese. The kind of burger that sends juice running down your arm if you lose concentration for more than a moment. Serious stuff this burger eating. The highlight, however, was the bacon. That said bacon is always a highlight of any meal ever but in this particular burger it was really very good; super smoky and properly crispy on the outside. 

Fast forward less than a fortnight and I'm back again; the call of the eponymous Dip & Flip burger had been too great. You can choose between either roast beef or roast lamb as your burger topping.  Unfortunately asking for the slice of roast beef rare got lost in translation and I ended up with a burger that was so rare the middle was cold and slimy making a chunk of it inedible even for a beef lover like me. The waitress promised to tell the kitchen and I can only assume that she did as that was the last I heard of it. Had it been just a leeeetle more cooked it would have been awesome. Dip and Flip prides itself on its gravy (hence the "Dip" in the name) and if you're a gravy lover then  this one is for you...



Poutine has been much talked about. Traditionally Canadian, it usually consists of chips in gravy with a variety of toppings always including cheese curd. In this case the curd is joined by bacon and jalapenos as in my opinion there is nothing in life that is not improved by bacon. I am no doubt an awful heathen but I don't like the cubes of cheese curd, give me liquid American cheese any day. 


Crinkle cut fries are served either plain or with a slop of gooey American liquid cheese on top. The child in me adores the wiggliness but they are very salty, half a portion and you're gasping for a glass of water. On my second visit there were no wiggles sadly; crinkle cut was off the menu. Still look pretty good though don't they?


If you need something sweet to round off a full belly then dessert shots are supplied courtesy of the lovely Laura at Dessert Deli keeping it nice and local. 

So, in summary, the burgers are great when you go for the straightforward, service is hit and miss but definitely the best place to get a burger in Battersea.  I also understand that a second branch is on the cards imminently for mid May in Wimbledon- somewhere else that is currently lacking exceptional burgers. Bring it on!

7/10

Dip & Flip
87, Battersea Rise. London. SW11

Dip & Flip on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Wokit, Borough Market

I made a decision a while ago that I was going to be less negative on this website. Despite people clearly preferring reading an article when I get the semantic daggers out (the website stats are testament to this), the places I am writing about are the result of someone's hard work, hopes and dreams and who I am I to trample all over that? It was all going so well until I had the misfortune to need a quick supper in Borough one Saturday late afternoon.


Everyone knows that Borough Market is home to some of the best food that London has to offer right? Especially tourists who flock there in huge numbers expecting everything to match up to scenes from Bridget Jones' Diary or the Trip Advisor reviews - I particularly loved a recent one penned by Ted in California who proclaimed it "without a doubt the best market in Great Britain" - granted its good but I do question how many others Ted might have visited to make such a sweeping statement.

So its a bit bloody annoying when someone takes a lease on a unit right in front of the market and sells what is, frankly, very average food at hyper inflated prices with a "concept".


The model at Wokit is, in theory, a decent and well-meaning one. A fresh stir fry using organic vegetables from neighbouring market trader, Ted's Veg, served within only a couple of minutes to eat in or take away. You pick your protein, pick your carbs and pick your sauce. Standard veg such as bean sprouts, cabbage and carrots are included and you can pay a supplement for extras. Here is where things start to annoy me. £4 for the basic noodle or rice mix. Not bad value. Add in a protein at £3 and start adding the sort of vegetables you would expect to see in a stir fry and the prices start shooting up at an alarming rate. 

So basically if you have one protein with standard noodles and a sauce its a minimum of £8. Getting something approaching what you might sling into a stir fry at home (handful of mange tout, couple of peppers) will cost you in the region of £12 upwards. Throw in some fancy apple juice because they don't sell many "normal" drinks and you've peaked £15 to sit on a stool in what is little more than a shed (albeit a very prettily decorated one) and eat fast food. 

An objection to paying £12 for a stir fry may sound ridiculously hypocritical coming from someone who has willingly forked out (pun intended) in excess of £300 for lunch but here is where my food philosophy holds firm: 1) It's not about cost, its about value. A meal can be £3 or £300 but if its excellent quality and cooked well, that's what matters. 2) It's also about the experience. I have been made to feel like a million dollars in a neighbourhood pizza joint and like something iffy on the sole of a shoe in Michelin star restaurants and, regardless of how good the food is, trust me, it clouds your judgement. 3) if you ever find yourself questioning any of the above whilst still in the establishment or at any point afterwards then its an automatic fail. 

Therefore, applying my own rules, I would not object to paying upwards of a tenner for a really nice stir fry served with a smile. That's not what I got when I visited Wokit one early Saturday evening though, oh no. 

At the till I was met by a skinny jeaned, beanie wearing chap who was most definitely more disgruntled by my interrupting his conversation with a mate than he was interested in taking my order. Order finally placed for stirfry and a bottle of juice and I had the temerity to ask for a cup to put the juice in. Apparently that was a crazy-assed request as most people just swig the juice from the bottle. I attempted compromise and suggested a straw. Nope, no straws. No cups either apparently unless you count the giant ones that the food is served from so I sat there with three inches of juice in the bottom of a cup the size of which has only previously been seen used for drinks by a borderline-diabetic chugging Dr Pepper in a Texas branch of Taco Bell. 

Because the meats are already cooked before the stirfrying begins they do not have the opportunity to take on the flavours or moisture of the sauce meaning that you end up with rather bland chunks of dry meat proliferating the paper cup. Yes, its fresh but the result is not very flavoursome. The sauces are nothing novel and bear startling resemblance to those found in most takeaways (without the MSG granted). 



My sweet and sour pork was almost fluorescent yellow and very, very sweet. I ate less than half. Being positive (and I am trying, honestly!) the vegetables were very fresh. 


Wokit is an example of an exercise in marketing and "concept" over execution. The website is a perfect reflection of this less savoury side to the London restaurant scene right now where food and service take second place. 

Their website is a case in point. Cartoon cows and smiling sheep proclaim their ethos to be "fun", "sustainable", "wholesome", "community",  What does "Community" even mean as a description of an eatery? (as much as I hate the word 'eatery', I can't bring myself to call this place a restaurant). The website gives plenty of air time to the "social media consultant", the "brand identity designer" and the "creative director" but if you click on the one picture of the "wokstar" chefs on the team page you get very little information and are taken back to the brand identity designer's personal homepage.  Despite the emphasis put on the ingredients there is no real information given about them. Where did those chunks of rather dry pork come from (i.e. which poor pig died in vain). If you're going to harp on about sustainable/ local/ wholesome blah blah, then I'd rather know what makes the ingredients special than the fact that the brand identity designer will also design wedding invites for you. To be honest it smacks of a group of hipster mates hyping themselves up and hoping it catches on as the next big thing regardless of the food being any good. 

I don't care how worthy, entrepreneurial, shiny and happy the whole exercise is designed to be, if it tastes god awful and the service is terrible then its a failure in my eyes, end of.

There are areas in London where there are very few good places to eat. In those areas you accept that the trade off for convenience is less exciting food. This could not be further from the case in Borough. Take twenty steps in any direction and you are tripping over brilliant food and exciting cooking. That is why I believe that its an absolute liberty to serve up this tosh. Please take those twenty steps and find somewhere else to eat, I beg you.

Highlights: The pretty flowers on the wall.
In summary: Opportunistic 
Would I go back: Hell, no. 

2/10

Wokit
3 Stoney Street, London, SE1 9AA
020 7403 2111

Friday, 8 May 2015

34

There are some people who exude money. I don't mean it literally of course, no one has pound coins popping out from behind their ears magician style it was more that the other diners seemed very expensive. The whole experience felt very expensive. I'm sure that you know what I mean? Even before I arrived I felt slightly inadequate just trying to find the restaurant. Address: 34, Grosvenor Square. Except there isn't a 34 Grosvenor Square on Grosvenor Square.  We drove around at least twice looking at numbers and found nothing. It started to seem like an insider joke - if you can't find the secret door you can't come in. The cab driver suggested that maybe it was actually IN the neighbouring US Embassy but even I knew that was a silly idea, imagine the security clearance needed just to get supper. Finally in desperation- and now five minutes late for the reservation- I called the restaurant; the entrance is actually around 100m down South Audley Street - as I would have known if I'd checked their website to be fair. 

This may all say more about my navigational skills and powers of observation than the place itself but it wasn't the most auspicious start to the outing. Neither was fighting my way up the steps through a cloud of smoke past leggy, sleek, thoroughbred racehorses in skyscraper red soled Louboutins suppressing their appetites with cigarettes  as I trotted up like a Shetland pony.  

Strike three in the arsenal of bad starts to the evening was a call from the other 50% of my table announcing she'd broken up with her boyfriend, was in tears and hadn't yet dressed or left the flat. I got bossy - dress on, face on, Uber ordered and bottom in seat within half an hour or else. Best order myself a drink as I'm in for a wait.

A cocktail is going to set you back somewhere around £10-£20 depending on your poison and averaging somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. Wine by the glass ranges from £8 up to the sky being the limit. A glass of Coteaux de Layon as an aperitif was therefore not only a delicious, but also comparatively economical, choice.



Shortly after this photo the lights were dimmed for the evening crowd and became darker and darker as the night progressed until you could barely see what was on your plate and photos became virtually impossible. The two photos below are admittedly awful and the remainder were completely unprintable so you will just have to imagine.

It says something about the food and the pampering attention from the waiting staff that my heartbroken friend was happily munching on sashimi within a few minutes of arriving- A £17.50 starter plate of sashimi no less. Good quality fish- as you would expect- and presented nicely. Definitely the low-cal option for the Mayfair lady who lunches...



Being more of a dame who dines myself I was not limiting myself to raw fish but went for a plate of grilled squid with Iberico croquette and very nice it was too. Things generally are when they have been fried in my experience. Pork and seafood make such excellent bedfellows when, logically, they totally shouldn't. Probably the worst possible starter going if you are Jewish though, sorry. Starters on the whole range between £9-18. 



I'd been advised by friends to make sure to choose something from the grill and they weren't wrong. With a couple of exceptions, much of the beef is sourced from Scotland via suppliers Billfields and hung for a minimum of 28 days. The grills they are cooked on are imported from Argentina (this sounds impressive but how different can a grill from Argentina be?!)

I've harped on quite a bit recently about London's increasing disposition towards USDA beef and 34 has joined the fray offering USDA burgers and steak frites, I am hoping that this is only due to the preferences of their neighbours at the US embassy.


A 2004 Chateau Musar was every bit as good as you would expect it to be. Yes, Lebanese blends can be an acquired taste for many but for me they are a reliable go to in a sea of eye waveringly expensive Burgundy and Bordeaux targeted firmly at the 'out on expenses' market. La Tache, Cheval Blanc, Lafite, DRC, Le Pin; the gang's all here. At £89 the Musar was still not exactly the cheapest option on the list but made for comparably good value. 

The atmosphere is ideal for a romantic night out but equally suits friends catching up although proper gossip is hard on the banquette tables as you can hear every single syllable of what your neighbours say so don't go imparting secrets unless you want the better heeled of London to know.  A live jazz trio were playing in the bar.

On the dessert front we had something chocolatey and it was very nice but I'll be honest, I cannot remember for the life of me any more than that.

Highlight: The steak and the atmosphere (the jazz trio do make it feel more special)

Summary: Feels expensive, tastes expensive and is expensive but if you've got and don't mind spending its worth a visit. 

Would I go again? Yes definitely on expenses, or for a special occasion. For the price, there is better food in London but everything I ate was nonetheless good and the experience is always a glamorous one. 

7/10

34
34, Grosvenor Square
London. W1

Square Meal 34 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Brasserie Lipp

Waking up on a Sunday to a gloriously sunny (and unseasonably warm) Paris morning and it would be churlish to do anything other than go for a long stroll through the streets of the Left Bank. Meandering up to the Musée Rodin to do a bit of 'thinking' followed by a roam along Rue du Bac gazing into the windows of all those wonderful patisseries

Several hours and a labyrinth of St Germain streets later and we had built up quite an appetite which brought us to the door of Paris institution Brasserie Lipp.

Notorious as the place for Paris' artistic and political intelligensia to see and be seen, at first glance you can imagine that it has changed little since its inception in 1880 despite its purchase in 2002 by French Restaurant group Bertrand.  Painted tiles and notices to clients in classic unmistakably French font dot the walls.

All eyes are on the door as the next people wander in and your rank as a diner can be measured by where you are sat and how effusively the maitre d' and waiters kiss you on arrival.  Although a lot of the customers are elderly and well groomed, even on a Sunday, the room was smattered with tourists and as we were leaving Roman Abramovic and Dasha Zhukova were being ushered through so if its good enough for an oligarch.....


To a degree its a big cliche but its a fun snapshot into Parisian old school society without a stupid price tag. After all, anywhere where the menu has to point out in big red letters that salad is not a meal and that 500 Euro notes are not taken must have an intriguing clientele. I'm not sure whether it says more about me or them but I genuinely had no idea such a thing as a 500 Euro note existed let alone that its prevalent enough to require routine refusal.



Still, there are plenty of places I could name in London where its all about being seen and the food is, frankly, a secondary consideration so I was intrigued to see if its the same at Lipp. 

Although snails are only listed by the dozen on the menu, you can have a half dozen with plenty of baguette to mop up the garlicky ooze of butter. Let's be honest- and sounding a bit of a philistine I'm sure- few people really differentiate between the quality of the snails, its all about that lurid green butter.



Carrying on with the classics I went for the steak tartare. For me it was a little overly finely chopped as it was more like a steak purée but the flavour was great. Capers, onions and egg already mixed in. The thinnest of allumette fries liberally dusted in salt completed the dish. 

My love affair with the tarte tartin started about 25 years ago on a childhood holiday on the French Atlantic coast. The English version of the menu had translated it as "apple tart' and I had expected something like the apple pie I was used to at home. What arrived was an iron skillet containing a steaming, golden dish with the most beautiful caramelised apples roasted down until just barely holding their form for long enough to make it into your mouth before dissolving into a sweet, citric burst. 

This one was served with sour cream which is just a little wrong to my sweet palate. 


A Parisian lunch would not be lunch without coffee and like everything else Chez Lipp its branded to the hilt!



In summary: Its maybe a little pricier than some other brasseries but you know you will get reliably good French classics with people watching opportunities second only to a copy of Paris-Match.

Highlights: The snails and people watching opportunities

Would I go again? If I was in the St Germain area then yes definitely but there are so many classic Parisian brasseries to try and so few trips to Paris sadly that I would probably spread the love in future. 

7/10

Brasserie Lipp
151 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris