Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Encore Un Fois - Perhaps Not

I feel my role is as much to recommend good places to go as it is to offer a full review of as many restaurants in London that I eat at. But clearly, in the normal course of my daily appetite, which naturally must be served three times a day, and regrettably too often away from home, I will eat at places that I wouldn’t want my readers to hurry to.

Today’s entry is a place that would fulfil this criterion. It wasn’t terrible. I just wouldn’t want to recommend it when London boasts so many great places to eat. Fortunately the occasion was always going to outshine the food so the disappointment in this regard was easily recompensed by the rip roaring good time that was had by all.

Café Des Amis, in the heart of London’s trendy West End (that phrase is in desperate need of updating – perhaps “in the pelvis of London’s sex district”, or “in the think tank of London’s media district”) is a long term relic of a time when anything with a French name on a menu in London was seen as exotic and sophisticated. Fortunately we have moved on from this time, and though the general feel of the place implies that Café des Amis haven’t, their cooking does suggest that their 25 year tenure is deserved, albeit rather unspectacularly.

A bunch of 8 of us took over their private room for lunch, as we suspected that our rowdiness might distract other diners from their quiet food. We had much to discuss, and by pretending it was in secret, it lent the whole event some much needed gravitas. The rooms itself didn’t really work and I really wouldn’t suggest any of you were to hire it except for ironic purposes, although I did enjoy the sense of having our own room with nice first floor windows onto a busy Covent Garden street.

The menu had all the typical features of a dated French bistro – onion soup, moules, oysters – as well as a few things I had no idea about. What on earth is an eblysotto? Why put it on your menu. As irritating as I find non French restaurants writing a menu in French, I find it more so when you encounter a term so remote (even for the French apparently) that the waitress gets to use her knowledge of the term to slap you around your peeg eegnorant English face with.

I opted for moules marinière (concerningly misspelled on the menu) to start with and then steak tartare to follow. The moules were vile. I should have known not to order something a) that is misspelled, and b) that is never as good as in the South of France, where they are positively orgasmic. I am at pains to say whether there was not enough sauce or too much, because though there was just a dribble in the bottom of the bowl, it was enough to repellently kiss all the shriveled up little molluscs to make their death a tragic shame. Good moules marinière should have a strong wine flavour to the sauce, and big juicy moules, and plenty of sauce to mop up with nice baguette afterwards. This could not be said of their effort. Things did look up with the steak tartare which was nicely flavoured, spicy, and heavy in what I believe is known as umami, but is normally just pronounced “mmmm”. I had “triple cooked chips” which I think must have been a joke. Either that or the chef didn’t know how to count. The others were relatively well satisfied with theirs. No one was sick, no one vowed this to be the best meal they had ever eaten. But given the prices, we could have reasonably expected to be a little more impressed than we were. One of our group, a virgin meat eater having recently (last week) converted from being a lifelong vegetarian, had the duck. Even he said “I’ve had better”.

Puddings were pudding. Sweet and sugary and stuffed in when I thought nothing more would go in. I don’t really remember these too much. Maybe it was because it was too long ago. Maybe because I was drunk. Either way, I won’t be hurrying back. I don’t even know if I’ll be welcome.

Café Des Amis

11-14 Hanover Place (off Long Acre) 
0207 379 3444


  1. I can't even remember the food. (not necessarily the restaurant's fault). Wine was good, but maybe just well ordered.

  2. thanks for that dan

    it's like chilling with you