“ FRENCH. 31 Dover St, W1X 3RA. Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 8171. „
the best steak-frites this side of Paris" ??? Probably
Nine restaurants around London, mostly in and around the City though also including Victoria, Dover Street and an atrium above the Plaza in Covent Garden. There are also 'branches' at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports, and another lone branch in Cambridge.
These café-bars and restaurants are French. Not French-ish or frenchified, but actually French. Tables are draped with white linen, napkins are linen and large and there is a battery of cutlery and glassware. Waiters (generally with authentic accents) are suitably attired, but thankfully generally seem to have left their (allegedly) snooty attitude at home.
It is a grown-up place on the whole. At lunchtime the City branches are generally full of lunching business folk but it is not overly formal. The Chancery Lane branch is probably the most formal, largely thanks to dark wooden panelling and a surfeit of lunching barristers.
Its not cheap but generally it is good value, and a very pleasant dining experience. Steak-frites start from £10.95 and starters tend to be upwards of £4.00, puddings from £4.00 and house wine is about £14.00. I think you are probably looking at £50-70 for two with wine, though it is possible to spend much more quite easily. There are also set menus of £13.50 for 2 courses and £16.75 for 3 courses at lunchtime and I think a restricted time in the evening.
The wine list begins around £14.00 and goes upwards and onwards with a few bottles around £16.00 - £20.00 and then sharply up - mostly French but not exclusively so. Spirit are served in large measures with lots of ice so get in quick if you don't want your whisky 'tainted'.
But onto my favourite bit - the food. Bread is generally baguette or quatre-grains served with unsalted butter and anchovy butter (much nicer than it sounds and I suspect addictive), and comes to the table with olives as you sit down. Before this sounds over-generous you will be paying a cover charge of £1.50 per person so enjoy.
Starters can include smoked salmon, snails, scallops and other yummy things that don't necessarily begin with 's' such as pate and charcuterie. My favourite thing when in a group is to order the Camembert baked in its own box and served with crudités, bread and crackers.
For the main courses there are fish and even vegetarian alternatives, and friends tell me they are excellent. The owners of Chez Gerard also own Café Fish and Livebait so sourcing the fish should be no problem and choices often include Sea Bass, Monkfish and Dover Sole. I couldn't imagine taking a vegetarian to Chez Gerard though there are choices for them- in all honesty I think I would go somewhere less carnivorous.
Meat is the thing. There are several cuts of steak which are the French cuts of onglet, entrecote etc and range from £10.95 up to £25.00 for chateaubriand served on a board for two. All steaks are accompanied with baskets of painfully thin crisp chips. On my last visit, my chips were cold and soft but a discreet word with the waiter had a fresh basket whizzing to my table in seconds. Sides are irritatingly charged extra and include salads, excellent green beans and buttered spinach.
In addition to the steak, there are other meats available such as roasted corn-fed chicken, pan-fried venison and grilled lamb or pork. The meat all appears to be well-sourced and generally excellently cooked. The only failures I have ever encountered were an overly-fatty cassoulet (hardly a lean meal at the best of times but this one was swimming) and a particularly stingy piece of chicken. On both occasions discreet complaining brought replacements.
The puddings look lovely but I've never managed to leave my chips alone sufficiently to try them. They include chocolate mousse, tarte au citron and tarte tatin, or you could try a selection of (French) cheeses. They start at about £4.00 - £6.00.
One word of caution. They add service to your bill and its infuriating, particularly if the service hasn't been worthwhile. Do check carefully.
I'm not sure its one for the children - the food isn't particularly tailored for them, and I personally hate children's menus but I think this is a bit more adult. That said, I don't know your children, but I won't be taking mine for a few more years.
In addition to the restaurants main menus, brunch is available at some of the venues with quite the best Eggs Benedict going. The branches at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports have this available all day and it is quite the best thing to eat instead of enduring airline food. So much more civilised.
Of all the branches, Covent Garden has perhaps the nicest aspect looking out over the Piazza but it is extremely popular and service can be haphazard. I particularly like Dover Street and Chancery Lane for their French style and quiet calm.
If you are planning to visit then click on http://www.santeonline.co.uk/sante/offers/index.htm where there are frequently offers including money off vouchers (downloadable) and notices of special menus and deals. They often do not seem to apply at the Covent Garden venue, which is a shame but understandable I guess.
The website http://www.santeonline.co.uk also allows you to check locations, sample menus and make reservations. There is also a page for sending e-invitations to your friends, sorting out theatre and dinner packages and also checking out their other chains including Café Fish, Livebait and Bertorelli cafes and restaurants.
While looking for somewhere to eat one Tuesday night in London, we came across a lovely French restaurant in the Southbank area. Chez Gerard is very stylishly designed around 1930s Paris, it has a trendy and almost formal feel to it even the staff are dressed up in very old fashioned uniforms.
As we arrived, we were quickly seated at a cosy table for two and given menus to look at. As Chez Gerard is renowned for The Best Steak Frites This Side of Paris, our minds were kinda made up before we even opened the menu. Steak Frites is basically a well cooked steak with a pile of crispy chips and it was divine.
Imagine a thick rump steak; cooked just long enough to take the pinkness out of the middle. The meat was tender and juicy; I could literally cut into it with just my fork, but the sharp steak knives which are laid out for this meal sliced through the steak like it was butter. The steak is drizzled in a peppercorn sauce, complete with whole peppercorns, which is a wonderful combination of peppery and creamy flavours. The frites (hereby known as chips) are delicious. Unlike a lot of restaurants, particularly in the Birmingham area, Chez Gerard are not ashamed of the fact that their chips are fried. These super skinny chips are, I would imagine, deep fried for a couple of minutes to get such a wonderfully crunchy texture. In a world of low fat foods, these chips are finger licking greasy.
One thing I loved about Chez Gerard is the fact that although its an upmarket restaurant, theyre not precious. If you want ketchup on your chips you can ask and not receive dumbfounded looks and mutterings about getting chef. Youll receive ketchup and a smile.
Wed opted for a 3-course meal which consisted of a starter, main course and dessert with a half bottle of wine and cup of coffee thrown in. Ive already discussed the fantastic main course, and the rest of the food was top notch too. In a French restaurant youve got to sample the French Onion Soup, this is a deliciously authentic dish but very filling when you also eat the mountain of fresh crusty bread. Very French, very onion-ey, very nice.
By the time our desserts arrived I didnt feel like I could eat any more. Until our desserts arrived, I should say. Id ordered a chocolate orange torte type pudding, and well wow This is seriously the very best dessert Ive ever eaten; a moist melt-in-the-mouth mousse which was so richly flavoured with chocolate that I thought Id died and gone to choccie heaven. The mousse was peppered with small chucks of proper chocolate too, which made it even better!
Theres a childs menu available at Chez Gerard, which I cant really comment on as the kids werent with us when we stayed in London. Looking at the menu, Id say its suitable for those of you with older children who are adventurous with their food. Yes, traditional beefburgers and chips are on the menu but they all understandably have a French twist so unless your child will happily eat burger garnished with thickly sliced onion (and what child would?) theyll probably leave here hungry. There were a few children when we visited, although most customers were young to middle aged couples without kids.
Its not that Chez Gerard doesnt cater for children, because they do. Its just that the restaurant itself has got a very grown up feel and its definitely one to visit with just the two of you as theres a definite romantic atmosphere in there.
The staff are really helpful, I had to complain about being given a glass with my wine which hadnt been washed properly and this was dealt with immediately and an apology (plus free glass of champagne) given. We waited roughly fifteen minutes for each course, which is great because I hate sitting in those restaurants where as soon as you finish one course another one is placed in front of you. In Chez Gerard I felt we had time to chat and generally unwind in between eating the fantastic food.
The half bottle of house wine which came with each meal was a nice smooth red, which went down nicely with the steak. Theres a choice of three or four wines, and as Id heard of none of them I asked the waiter to recommend a good bottle to go with our meals. He seemed knowledgeable about the various wines on offer, and also a later query about champagne was dealt with in the same professional manner.
Booking a table seems to be the best thing to do if you want to eat at Chez Gerard, we basically wandered in off the street and apparently we were lucky to get a table as they are usually fully booked. Its definitely a popular restaurant, all of the tables were in use by the time we left and I could see a couple hanging around to sit down as soon as wed finished. They had to wait a while before I could manage to get up after my three course meal!
Chez Gerard is fully accessible to disabled visitors with most tables having plenty of space separating them. As there are a couple of areas where access would be difficult, however, its worth mentioning when you book if you have someone with mobility problems in your party.
We paid £30 each for our three course meal, and I think it was definitely money well spent. Yes, we could have gone somewhere cheaper but would we have experienced such high quality food and brilliant service? I doubt it. As the wine came with the meals, and also a very rich coffee at the end, we didnt spend any extra on drinks so our bill was exactly £60. Service charge is automatically included in the meal prices, which saves the how much should I give him? conversation which immediately follows being presented with a restaurant bill.
The easiest way to find Chez Gerard is head to Waterloo tube station, take a left onto York Road and then skirt around the Imax the restaurant is located on Belvedere Road which is dead easy to find as long as you keep your eyes open for the road signs. Congestion charge applies in this area, as does extortionate parking fees, so definitely get the tube if youre not within walking distance of the restaurant you can always call a cab if youre too stuffed with food to walk back to the tube station!
ps - Recommended even though it says below I don't!