There are a number of what might be termed French brasserie type restaurant chains which have opened establishments across London, indeed across the whole country. These actually do a pretty good job of mostly producing what might be best described as a slightly anglicised version of basic and mid-tier French cooking at, by modern standards, reasonable prices. However somehow most of these lack the French gastronomic flair that those of us who have travelled a lot in France might seek in trying to replicate the experience of eating there.
Thus it is nice to see a City of London restaurant/bar opening that perhaps brings us closer to the traditional small French restaurant ideal in Le Restaurant de PAUL which opened in late August on the ground floor of the City’s first true skyscraper building, nowadays called Tower 42. The building also sports the Vertigo 42 champagne bar at the top and Jason Atherton’s great Michelin-starred City Social restaurant (reviewed in the Autumn issue of Barbican Life) on the 24th floor. All in all a great eating and drinking destination.
While Le Restaurant de PAUL probably won’t gain a Michelin star like its upper neighbour – its menu isn’t of that type – its prices are hugely below Michelin star restaurant charges, while its atmosphere and great food from a very French looking (and tasting) menu are bound to make it a popular place for lunches, evening drinks and an accompanying meal – and even for breakfast (it is open from 6.30 am) and afternoon tea. Indeed it is not just a bar/restaurant, but a boulangerie and patisserie as well serving French style breads and pastries throughout the day – both inside the restaurant and also from a take-away kiosk situated outside. It also serves excellent coffee – and wines, beers and cocktails. My colleague was late arriving so I whiled away the time waiting with a Thyme Citron – a long glass with lemon juice, thyme syrup, thyme liqueur and gin (with a big sprig of thyme just so you didn’t forget what you were drinking) at £7.95. I was very tempted to order a second but my colleague arrived just in time to save me from such over indulgence.
There is quite a history behind the restaurant and company which runs it – dating back to 1889 in Lille, France. Historically it has been primarily a boulangerie and patisserie with nowadays outlets all over France and in many other countries too. Some Barbican residents may already be familiar with the small branch serving breads and pastries on Charterhouse Street at the top end of Cowcross Street and opposite the north side of Smithfield market. But more recently it has moved into the traditional French restaurant business, firstly with a small restaurant added to its patisserie/boulangerie in Covent Garden and now the new opening in Tower 42 in the City. The initial impression is certainly positive – either as a bar with snack type offerings (effectively sharing plateaux featuring charcuterie, fromages, and crudités – or the restaurant entrees) or as a full blown French restaurant with a relatively limited menu by some standards but oozing French routier type food at reasonable prices for this area of London – the most expensive dish on the menu being the 280g (around 10oz for those of us who still think in imperial weights and measures) entrecote steak at £18.95.
Both my review colleague and I chose soups as starters. I had the fish soup (£6.50) complete with rouille, grated cheese and croutons while my colleague chose the soup of the day – a wild mushroom and vegetable soup with the taste of the mushrooms really coming through (£5.45).
For mains we had cotelettes d’agneau (£14.95) – three lamb cutlets, cooked to order with the meat melting in the mouth, so I was told. (Their meat comes from Donald Russell – the Queen’s butcher – so is of excellent quality.) It was served on a massive slice of beefsteak tomato. I chose one of the other typically French dishes on the menu – boudin noir served with potatoes, tomato, espelette peppers and sour cream (£11.75) – absolutely delicious. Quite a different taste from English black pudding – sufficiently so to make me want to seek it out again, possibly in preference. We also shared a small dish of gratin dauphinois (potatoes cooked in a traditional French style with cream and garlic – £3.95) – that is a way I love potatoes cooked and it didn’t disappoint.
For dessert we shared a fraise melba (£6.75) – again very good.
The wine list is quite short (a dozen each of whites and reds, three roses and five sparkling wines/champagnes. The whites and reds start at £16.95 a bottle – and go up to city bonus £130 bottles of white (a 2007 Puligny Montrachet) and red (Vosne Romanee burgundy 2011). We settled for wines by the glass – a Cotes du Tarn sauvignon blanc at £5 and a Rose Ose Languedoc at £5.25. And both finished with a cup of their great coffee (well I had two cups).
So the food cost totalled a fraction under £50 for two. Wine, a bottle of sparkling water, the coffee and the pre lunch cocktail a further £27.50. That will give an indicator of what one could expect to pay for a meal for two – getting on for £40 a head including the drinks. Not too bad for a City restaurant with a nice ambience, friendly staff and good service. Recommended.
There is also an Express Menu served from 12 noon to 3pm featuring some French standards, like coq au vin, offering a choice of two starters, two mains and dessert or coffee, which costs £15 for two courses and £18 for three. There is also a fairly comprehensive breakfast menu served from 7.00 am to 12 noon offering breads, pastries, eggs and accompaniments, porridge, juices, coffees, teas etc. As a guide to prices their Petit Déjeuner Complet, comprising 2 fried eggs, dry cure bacon, traditional coarse cut Toulouse sausage, Provençale tomato, grilled field mushroom comes in at £8.50. Coffees, teas or juices extra. For a light breakfast a basket of assorted breads, with butter and jam is £4.50.
The restaurant seats 74 people but tables are well spaced and it could probably accommodate a few more if needed and there is also an external terrace where one can eat or have a drink or a coffee when the weather is appropriate for that. Design is modern – and seating is comfortable.
Le Restaurant de PAUL opens at 6.30 am and closes at 11 pm Mondays to Fridays. It is closed at weekends. By all accounts it is busy lunchtimes and in the evenings – with the bar perhaps dominating in the evenings. It would be a very convenient place to stop off for a drink after work if your office is in the area – and being close to Liverpool Street Station yet another potential stopping off point on the way home.
Le Restaurant de PAUL is at Tower 42, 25 Old Broad Street, London EC2N 1HQ, Tel : + 44(0) 0207 5625599.