Une Petite Tranche du France
Tucked away in Charterhouse Square behind Smithfield, Café du Marché offers excellent food and a wonderfully authentic bistro atmosphere
Review by Rupert Watkins
It’s not often you find a London establishment that truly makes you feel you are dining down a winding alleyway in deepest Toulouse. However, hidden away next to the historic and picturesque Charterhouse lies a rather special petite gem of a restaurant. Le Café du Marché has been serving its rustic inspired French fayre since 1986 and is now in the capable hands of the founder’s daughter. Walking in, you are confronted by crisp tablecloths and zinc topped bar. This though is no ultra-formal establishment, it is a wonderfully intimate and relaxed place to enjoy good food with convivial company.
Being shown to our corner table on arriving, our location gave my guest and I a chance to scan the room as well as our menus whilst enjoying a glass of champers. The bare bricked walls of the restaurant – its former life as warehousing and the coach stables for The Charterhouse next door clearly visible – are covered in cheerful Belle Époque and Art Deco prints and advertisements. A low open beamed ceiling, wicker chairs and white tablecloths complete a comfortable, rustic and lived-in feel.
Turning our full attention to the food, the bi-monthly changing menu is pleasing taut – about eight options per course – with bistro classics such as fish soup, foie gras and onglet steak winking at the Francophile traditionalist though there were pleasing local touches such as English asparagus with poached egg and Hollandaise sauce also taking the eye. My guest did indeed plump for the soupe de poisson finding piquant flavour and just the right touch of garlic. Somehow I managed to not steer straight to the foie gras, opting instead for the pea, broad bean and mint risotto. Another nice nod to the best of the English kitchen garden, the beans were fresh and tasty with the nicely judged small portion of creamy risotto.
As we had opted for differing main courses, we decided to go with wine by the glass, my guest opting for a glass of the 2014 Chataeu De Ricaud which proved elegant and rounded drinking. As I had decided on fish for one’s main, I went for a 2016 Viognier Pays D’Oc. Light and nicely fruity on the palette it proved easy drinking and pleasing counterpoint to my fish. With the overall Francophile ambience, the wine list is unsurprisingly Gallic in its composition though there are a few other well-chosen Old World wines such as 2012 Resalte Ribera Del Duero hiding in there.
Turning to our main courses, my guest alighted on the Gressingham duck with butternut puree whilst the fish of the day – lemon sole – had caught my eye. The duck was rich, well-cooked and meaty with the madeira sauce adding a pleasing kick. My lemon sole was fresh and fell of the bone. However, like much white fish it needed the piquant support and bite of the accompanying sweet tomatoes and capers to lift and support the flavour of the lemon sole. A light, but rich, butter sauce completed the much enjoyed dish. With a side dish of good frites accompanying both dishes this was classic bistro food of the highest order.
Though starting to feel the strain, in the name of journalistic integrity I felt I should fight through to the pleasures of the desert menu. A small but rather good selection is available to tempt those sweet of tooth; a delicious raspberry Baked Alaska (one so rarely sees them in establishments) was rapidly demolished alongside a chocolate cream brulee of good consistency.
With good coffee and truffles to linger over and round off the meal, this was an excellent meal. Even on a Monday evening when we dined, the restaurant was pretty full; testament to its rather decent atmosphere and good food – clearly it inspires loyalty and affection amongst those diners who know it. Walking home towards Farringdon Station, we passed a well-known high(ish) end steak chain – almost empty. Just why would one want to go there when such a unique and convivial restaurant such as Café du Marché is just a few steps away?
Enquires: Café du Marché, 22 Charterhouse Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1M 6DX / 0207 6081609 / www.cafedumarche.co.uk/