I started thinking about food on my journey to Le Colombier. I started thinking about engineering, haulage and transport when I arrived at Le Colombier. How did they manage it? Had they transported a bit of France to Chelsea? Was the original restaurant removed in sections from some smart Parisian street? Was the furniture stacked into a UK-bound lorry? Could the traditional zinc-topped bar have been liberated from a French bistro by a man with a van?
Well, no, dear reader, the owner Didier Garnier established Le Colombier in 1998 in an existing building that fits the part of a Parisian Brasserie so well. It’s a vision of cream with blue accents. The restaurant is in every way authentically French. It isn’t French “themed”. It doesn’t have accordion music playing in the background. The staff are French and the menu is French. It IS French.
Le Colombier was a welcome haven after our short but freezing walk from South Kensington underground station. The restaurant was full with more guests arriving to enjoy an evening in the private dining room on the 1st floor (up to 30 for a seated lunch or dinner). You wouldn’t know there was a recession. No hint of credit being crunched or even slightly mauled. As the evening progressed it became evident that many of those convivial clients were regulars.
Although Le Colombier is without a doubt charming and elegant the atmosphere is relaxed. It has the sound of a restaurant being enjoyed. That is to say, a buzz of conversation that indicates that people feel at home. A smart restaurant, yes! A stuffy one, no.
Didier has had years of experience running the St Quentin group of restaurants and he even comes from a family of restaurant owners. His passion for food is evident. The menu reflects brasserie-style dishes, changing frequently to take advantage of the best produce available. Didier isn’t a man to shy away from culinary innovation, though.
There are many starters here that you would expect from any good French restaurant. Oysters, Foie Gras and smoked salmon; but Sardines La Quiberonnaise Millésime 2007-Vintage is the one to try. It’s 2007 Sardines, Lemon, Onion and Toasted Poilane Bread. How come the aforementioned sardines are awarded a vintage? Well, they are in a tin. Yes, preserved and presented like fine wine. Might sound strange but this is an amazing must-try item. France and Spain have long appreciated fish and shellfish in tins, jars and bottles. These are high-quality foods that have an entirely different taste and texture from their fresh counterparts. They take flavour from herbed marinades to create rich and tempting morsels. My guest proclaimed these sardines to be one of the most delightful hors d’oeuvre he had eaten in ages. Simple as so many great things are.
My warm goat’s cheese salad was everything a good one should be, and a great deal better than most I have had in either France or the UK. The cheese was tangy with a creamy sauce. The salad was crisp and well-dressed, and the basket of real French bread and sweet Echire butter made a satisfying accompaniment – at no additional charge.
The main courses are all served with their appropriate vegetables so there are no ‘extra’ costs for side dishes. Le Colombier is just amazing value for money. There was a very good selection of fish dishes including sole, monkfish, and salmon with Hollandaise sauce (only £18.20) which I have ear-marked for my next visit.
Today I ordered loin of lamb which was amply garnished with Provencal tomatoes and courgettes. The sauce was bread-dippingly divine. The meat was tender with real flavour and cooked to melt-in-the-mouth perfection.
My guest tucked into the dish of the day, which was a ragoût of rabbit. This is an underrated meat and too seldom seen on menus. When it’s good it’s unbeatable but when it’s bad it’s horrid. This bunny was moist and flavourful with potatoes that were crumbly and aromatic. This was a substantial plateful.
The dessert menu offered lots of well-loved favourites such as Crème Brûlée, Tarte au Citron and Mousse au Chocolat but I couldn’t resist Crêpes Suzette. There were two generous pancakes with zesty orange and a good shake of Grand Marnier. You’ll not find better. It’s a standard dish but no less delightful for that.
My guest chose Chaud Froid aux Amandes. These are scoops of ice cream with slivered almonds and a hot chocolate sauce which arrived in a jug. There were many minutes of quiet and content nibbling as we both contemplated two very fine French meals.
The wine list was everything you would expect of a fine French eatery at home or abroad. Our bottle of Le Colombier de Chateau Brown (no relation to the restaurant) was perfect with both our main courses – ruby in colour, fruity with a soft palate, and under £30. On the dessert menu were interesting selections of dessert wines, Calvados and Marc.
Le Colombier is an amazingly well-priced gem. There are no hidden extras and no nasty surprises when the bill arrives. The food is glorious and the surroundings will beam you across the Channel. It’s no surprise that this restaurant is so popular. It will add two new names to its list of habitués. We will return!
A la Carte menu available:
Monday to Saturday 12.00 noon to 3.00pm and 6.30pm to 10.30pm
Sunday 12.00 noon to 3.30pm and 6.30pm to 10.00pm
145 Dovehouse Street,
Chelsea Square, London SW3 6LB
Tel: 020 7351 1155
Visit Le Colombier here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018