The Café du Marché, off Charterhouse Square, is a true Barbican Life favourite. Immaculately white painted brick exterior with blue awnings and smartly tended window boxes may belie the spacious auberge-style main dining areas within, but reflects the care, vision and dedication of an over 30 year old independent family run French restaurant and still employing some of their original staff.
The restaurant’s attractive exterior in Charterhouse Mews
The restaurant is tucked away in a tiny dead-end cobbled Mews next to the Malmaison Hotel and given that it thus cannot attract passing trade says volumes for the restaurant’s quality and ambience. Indeed for the first timer it may be difficult to find. This enduring presence, despite the financial crash of 2008 and subsequent mushrooming of good eateries in the locality is admirable.
Timber floor and ceiling joists with red brick walls and large mews-side windows show the building’s mid-19th century workshop origins – a manufacturer of letter-binders. (www.british-history.ac.uk) and also corsets at some point (www.cafedumarche.co.uk) . The interior style is spotless rustic French with a timeless easy atmosphere that pleasantly embraces you, then makes it easy to forget about the world outside.
The Café du Marché boasts a delightful rustic French décor and atmosphere
Our young-ish fellow diners on Wednesday lunchtime were larger tables of business people and smaller tables of smart casual couples. Pleasantly warming jazz music played. In the evenings there is candlelight and live jazz.
The regularly changing à la carte menu and daily specials are predominantly classic French provincial with various modern twists. Last time we visited the menu was Prix Fixe but with a great choice of dishes available. Now it has been transferred to the a la carte one with prices much in line with other top restaurants in the area – and this is definitely one of the area’s top restaurants in terms of food and ambience!
We started with mushroom soupe du jour (£5.95) which hit the fine balance of depth and lightness. Duck rillette (daily special) was deliciously tender and meaty – served with sourdough bread and a gherkin. Vegetarienne tartiflette of new potato, wild mushrooms, shallots, reblochon (£7.95) looked good. I also love a good pate de campagne, this one comes with sourdough toast and is served with pistachio, apple and quince chutney (£8).
Mains are all served with crisp, golden frites and fresh crunchy green salad with smooth vinaigrette. Fish of the day was sea bream (£23) dressed with a cream sauce flecked with saffron strands and served on a bed of peas, tiny broad beans and finely diced red pepper (with a touch of onion and dill). Our other main was leg of rabbit (daily special) served with lentil and chorizo stew – tasty and satisfying. Cote de boeuf with béarnaise sauce is an extensively reviewed house special (£63 for two). Vegetarians might like polenta with parmesan, herbs and wild mushroom ragout (£18) or smoked haddock, poached egg and grain mustard sauce (£22).
The beautifully served Cote de boeuf for two people is one of the restaurant’s specialities
Desserts. Chocolate mousse (a personal favourite) paused conversation with its delicate chocolate and cream silkiness and was served in an edible dark and milk chocolate tulip with orange sable biscuit (£5.95). Tart du jour was an excellently executed pear tart served with ice cream.
The wine list shows a good choice of mainly French and some other European wines. Whites are from £25 to £80. At under £30 there are some reasonable choices, for example, a Pays d’Oc or a Picpoul de Pinet. Mid list there’s a St Veran, typically a good value, tasty burgundy from the Maconnais, and at the higher end are some fine burgundies such as St Aubin and Mersault.
Reds start from £30 and go up to £200+. For around £30 there’s a choice of decent South of France wines from the Luberon or Cotes du Rhône, or a Rioja to try instead. Pushing the boat out a little to the £40-50 range and you may be tempted by a refined Northern Rhône Crozes Hermitage, or a Ribera del Duero from Spain. Push the boat out further and there’s a hearty Gigondas which should complement most red meat dishes very well. If you push considerably further, according to taste, you will find plenty of fine claret and burgundy special treats to sample.
There’s a good selection of wines by the glass – standard or large – from £4.50.
The restaurant previously had a separate café space (Le Rendezvous) facing onto Charterhouse Street with a few outside tables, just round the corner from the Charterhouse Mews entrance. This has now been opened up to join the main restaurant – a sunny, smaller space serving the same restaurant menu, providing wheelchair/buggy access and adding an additional option to the lovely main upstairs dining room for group events.
Group events offer for 30+ people in August 2018 – 10% discount. Book by 30th June.
Café du Marché, 22 Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6DX. Tel 0207 608 1609. www.cafedumarche.co.uk
Opening hours Mon-Fri 12-4pm 6-11.30pm Sat 6-11.30pm