Bayswater is a funny little place. Lined with kebab shops, tacky souvenirs and shisha bars, it’s the last place you’d expect a swanky restaurant. But this is London, where council estates sit cheek-by-jowl with £1 million-plus properties, and branches of McDonald’s jostle for customer space with award-winning restaurants. It’s in this vein that Le Café Anglais, a retrograde little Anglo-French restaurant at the top of Whiteley’s shopping centre, exists.
It might all be about location, location, location – but don’t let its slightly incongruous one put you off. Once you’ve navigated the entrances (either by plush lift or at the top level of the shopping mecca), it’s as though the shops below selling mugs of William and Kate never existed. Head chef Rowley Leigh, formerly of Kensington Place, has created an old-school, buzzy Parisian bistro, complete with slippery leather booths, distressed mirrors and starched white tablecloths. It reminds me of the all-day bars I used to frequent when bumming around in Paris in late 2007, except these bars didn’t have a prominent central banquet bar from where champagne flowed freely (it was Stella instead). This is the kind of place that when they offer an aperitif, you ask for a kir royal.
As is so often the case, the food takes centre stage here in Bayswater, with a daily changing menu. Some very reasonably priced small hors d’oeuvres to start include salmon teriyaki, kipper pate with a boiled egg, and mortadella with celeriac – none of which we had much appetite to eat. (It was 7pm, IT guy and I were slammed from a week’s work.) Oyster fans can fill their boots here, though – and indeed, a large birthday table came to sit down next to us with plate upon plate of oysters, reminiscent of a Man vs Food challenge.
Being gluttonous at ever, we moved onto the first courses – lamb sweetbreads with salsa verde (delicious, if a bit too heavy for a first course) and the crab linguine with chilli and mint (perfection). Leigh has combined the best flavours of French food, with the larger-than-average size of an English meal.
Settling on the mains, IT guy chose a tender bone-in sirloin steak, while I opted for a chicken breast with herbes de provence, prepared fresh in the kitchen’s rotisserie. (Another brownie point for Le Café Anglais. Where else boasts a rotisserie?) Sides of gratin and creamed spinach were at best superfluous, as the dishes are seriously super-sized. While IT guy enjoyed his meal so much he practically dribbled his steak down his chin, he conceded that my chicken was the highlight: tender on the inside, but with a crisp of skin outside. Needless to say, we were too full for dessert, although I did weakly accept a crème caramel.
Yet another pat on the back for the service, as nobody said a word as we plumped for a bottle of fruity Rioja, destined not to match any food we were having. That kind of sums up the service – it’s the type you don’t really remember, which I suppose is the best kind.
Yes, you cry, it’s in Bayswater – home of central London’s only ice rink. But remember, Queensway is on the Central Line, so just a short hop from Bank. And where else do the French and English sit together so contentedly?
8 Porchester Gardens