A few weekends ago, Jon and I had dinner at Le Cafe Anglais with our friends visiting from New York. I have to confess that the reason we went was pretty lame: I’d read a positive blurb about it in the New York Times. But you know, I rely on NYT articles when I travel outside of London, so why not use it for my current hometown? [Note that this instance isn’t nearly as bad as the time I discovered the Paul Young chocolate shop in my own neighborhood only after it turned up in the New York Times foraging section.]
Le Cafe Anglais wasn’t my first choice for dinner, but I was striking out at the other, smaller restos I called the day of, and I was super grateful Le Cafe Anglais had a table for four at 9:30 pm on a Saturday. When we arrived at the resto and saw how many tables filled the enormous dining room, I was no longer surprised that Le Cafe Anglais had room for us. You rarely see a space that large in London. That said, even at 10 pm, the place was still packed and lively.
As every review about Le Cafe Anglais will tell you, the resto is located next to the Whiteley’s shopping mall. Let’s just say it’s not a pretty sight. But once you’re in the Cafe’s airy, high-ceilinged dining room, it’s like you’ve walked into an old Cunard line dining salon. (And here’s the disclaimer that my knowledge of early-20th-century Cunard dining rooms comes straight out of perhaps-not-so-accurate films like Titanic).
Despite the upscale decor, Le Cafe Anglais feels very friendly and welcoming. It’s the perfect place for everyone from a party of one to a party of twenty, and the menu items are priced to be similarly flexible: you could nibble on a series of £3 hors d’oeuvres or you could feast on rack of lamb for £18.
Now I have to mention that I actually took a lot of photos of our meal, but alas, I’m pretty sure I left my camera at the resto (that’s where I last saw it, anyway, even though it hasn’t turned up in the lost and found), so no photos of the food in this post.
That said, the oyster fritters (from the £3 hors d’oeuvres menu) were a highlight: a grease-free, crispy batter crust and a juicy, briney taste-of-the-sea oyster center. Parmesan custard (also £3) tasted like an intense quiche filling, all creamy and tangy-salty. Washed down with reasonably-priced glasses of a chilled Bourgonge blanc, the oysters and custard got us excited for the rest of our meal.
Our group of four also enjoyed the skate spaghetti appetizer (which is exactly as the name implies – spaghetti tossed with slivers of meaty, fishy skate) and the lardo (mmmm, prosciutto). We were, however, all thumbs-down on the melon salad, whose flavors just didn’t mix at all.
The main courses were what you’d see on most gastropub menus – lots of grilled meat and poultry – which is no surprise given the giant rotisseries that have pride of place in the center of the dining room. All our mains (duck, pork belly, lamb, sausage) were simply prepared and delicious, just the way you’d expect at your neighborhood cafe in Paris, I suppose.
Overall, I liked Le Cafe Anglais a lot and would pop by more often if only Bayswater weren’t such a pain to reach from Angel. The prices are good (the majority of mains fall in the range of £12-£15), and the atmosphere is buzzy without being deafening. Service was fine by me, mostly because carafes of tap water were no problem. I have issues with cover charge, generally, but at £1.50 per person, I can forgive Le Cafe Anglais theirs.
With a few aperitifs, a bottle of wine, 3 hors d’oeuvres, 2 appetizers and 4 mains, our tab came to £43 per person.
Le Cafe Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, W2 4DB; (0)20 7221 1415; closest tube stations: Bayswater and Queensway.