Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Le Café Anglais

Rowley Leigh (of Kensington Place fame) and his cohorts chose an odd place to open Le Café Anglais in 2007 - Whiteley's shopping centre in Bayswater. Apparently once a thriving complex, the two times I have ventured through its pristine interior, you'd be lucky to see a single customer. Handed a promotional flyer, we headed to the shopping centre's 'Piano Bar' for an aperitif. Hell, it was depressing! The cheek of it: the 'piano' was no such thing. Instead, an electric monstrosity that the fumbling barman had to switch on to play recorded lift music as he poured our prosecco, as if it was the first drink he'd ever served. How desperate. How quickly we fled.

Back to the reason we're here. Entering Rowley Leigh's lair through the elegant Porchester Gardens entrance is like entering another era. The beautiful art deco-inspired interior, flanked by floor to ceiling windows, and full of light, is grand and tasteful. The seating is a mixture of booths and tables, and the bar at the entrance has ample room for lounging and surveying the comings and goings. (Shh, don't tell anyone that this room once housed the local McDonalds.)

The menu has filled out a bit since my last visit. Dare I say it's not as ballsy. The signature dish, Parmesan custard and anchovy toast (pictured above), is still there with other imaginative hors d'oeuvres, as is the courteous nod to the French (it's all in the name). We struggled to work out, though, how Thai green curry and pilaff fits into the mix sitting alongside dishes such smoked eel, foie gras, rotisserie classics, and marinated mackerel.

The three course £25 set menu was a pure distillation of Rowley Leigh's Anglo-French no-fuss cooking style, but sadly didn't inspire my non meat-eater friend, who had trouble concocting a satisfying three-course meal from either the set or extensive full menu.

Our starters of Heirloom tomato salad with burrata and the imaginative Parmesan custard were probably the highlight of the evening. The salad composed of first-rate ingredients, delicately dressed, and the rich, smooth custard stood out as perfect examples of the kitchen's intelligence. My Lamb fillet with crushed peas won't be etched in my memory until the end of time, but it was certainly a fine piece of charred meat with fresh seasonal accompaniments. Steamed scallops with choy sum and ginger dressing were fine, but not outstanding: after-thought on the menu, after-thought in the kitchen, it seems. The service was amicable, with tap water willingly offered. We moved from a rather-too-sweet Loire white, to a lighter Italian, freeing our palates for the food. The wine list is varied and impressive, splitting the French by region. I practiced my French pronunciation by reading out every one to my companion - her patience and lack of embarrassment were admirable.

Apparently, desserts aren't Rowley's thing, so he offers lots of fruit. Great idea. We shared Chocolate and raspberry roulade and White peach with coconut ice cream. A decadent and refreshing end to a meal that left us both happy and replete, and came to a quite reasonable £40 each (given the amount of alcohol consumed). We will most definitely return.

Le Cafe Anglais on Urbanspoon

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