Brains and Brest and lots of wine – a route to culinary bliss

The French House

You won’t find foams or fermentations, powders, prissy presentation, gels or swirling clouds of aromatic dried ice on the dishes at the French House in Soho.

Instead you’ll encounter a menu based firmly on French cuisine bourgeoise – that tradition of celebrating the cheap and simple that seems to have fallen out of favour in an industry increasingly prone to following the whims of fashion.

And – you know what? – it’s food that I’d happily eat seven times a week, 52 weeks a year.

Newly rattling the pans at the French is Neil Borthwick, a chef with a very fine pedigree.

His cookery is highly skilled. His food is muscular and punchy.

The French House

Take my starter – demi-globes of calf brain cooked to caramelised perfection on the outside and sweet and melting within.

They were lathered in brown butter that was the shade of a San Tropez grand dame who’s spent too long lying on the beach.

A top was an audacious number of capers, their astringency cutting through the richness of the rest of the dish.

Opposite my wife ate another French classic – rabbit rillettes.

This coarse pate was buttery and packed lots of garlicky flavour and was adored.

The French House

Afterwards for me came navarin of lamb – that hearty stew of neck-meat with carrots and turnips – in an amber sauce of such depth of favour, understated complexity and silky texture that at home I’d have licked the plate until my tongue was worn away.

The turnip tops found their way on to Lynn’s dish of judiciously cooked cod with garlic and a little chilli – another dish that delivered maximum flavour.

A shared side orders of buttery but firm mashed spuds and halved sautéed Brussel sprouts with bacon made this a substantial and thoroughly well-balanced lunch.

The French House

And, afterwards, I shared (reluctantly) a Paris-Brest – a circular choux pastry bun filled generously with lightly-textured cream favoured with praline.

That I grew teary-eyed at this point had more to do with the loveliness of the dessert than the Chablis, Bourgueil and port we’d necked back in homage to lushes such as Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon who’ve stumbled around the French House over the decades.

For this is an unfussy place – the bar is cramped, the restaurant upstairs struggles to seat more than 20 people. It’s all a bit scruffy.

The French House

But service is friendly and efficient. And there’s that low-volume buzz that enlivens a place where people are genuinely enjoying themselves.

For the French is welcoming, homely, comforting and serves the kind of no-nonsense, well-crafted food that many people love to eat.

How regrettable that Birmingham has no where remotely similar.

Need to know

We paid £124 for two for food and generous amounts of wine.

The menu is short and frequently changes.

Check the restaurant opening times, especially for evening visits.

Wines kick in at £21.50 a bottle, with the dearest £65.

Lots are available by the glass.

The French House

49 Dean Street, Soho, London W1D 5BG

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