|Photo by Freeimages.com/Guillaume ROUX|
by Marina O'Loughlin, The Guardian, March 11, 2016
The fact that it takes superhuman effort to score a booking at Greg Marchand’s foamingly reviewed Frenchie in Paris means that this new arrival coasts in on a wave of feverish anticipation. For some who never bagged a seat at the original, hope beats anew. For others, the anticipation is laced with schadenfreude: other successful overseas names (fellow Parisian sensation Inaki Aizpitarte and Le Chabanais; Hong Kong’s “X-treme chef” Alvin Yeung and Bo London) hit the capital only to crash and burn. Can Marchand buck the trend?
The Frenchie style seems to have swanked up over la Manche. Rather than a bistrot in the grungy garment district, this one is a chic, chilly study in shades of chalky greys in Covent Garden. Staff are in gartered shirtsleeves, braces and bow ties, like a hipster barbershop group, or in sharp suits. There are two floors: ground, where the expensive-cocktail-dispensing bar lives (£12.50 each!), and basement with open kitchen and ravishing, unisex loos. Unlike its parent, this Frenchie does not breathe off-piste and affordable.
The dishes, from an opaquely laid-out menu – watch out for the sneaky “snack” course that pushes up consumption – are mostly excellent and occasionally sensational. But always tiny. Weeny, crumbly scones studded with maple-sweetened nibs of bacon and, instead of butter, a quenelle of salted clotted cream. A dinky tartare – pale, hand-cut veal nudging even paler scallop – with an umami double whammy from parmesan and miso, crisp bitterness from endive and texture from toasted hazelnuts. A petite hummock of slumpy pig’s head, just-sweetened by smoked apple and given powdery crunch by toasted buckwheat; it’s bathed in a kind of jerusalem artichoke creme anglaise: a steamed pudding by Sweeney Todd. Translucent cod (small) comes with sherbetty Meyer lemon curd, bass notes from fungi – a revival for the much-reviled button mushroom? – and a belt of vegetal freshness from fronds of barba di frate.
The Parisian original has been canonised by the likes of Le Fooding, which celebrates ambitious, accessibly-priced cooking in “néo-bistrots”. And, at first glance, the pricing seems to have been imported alongside vadouvan-spiced vegetables and a love of sharp flavours: lunch is £28 for three courses. But – and this is a gigantic but – our dinner bill comes to 220 quid, with one cocktail and one bottle of wine. Three small courses each, no pudding. For lamb pappardelle, £16 might not seem unreasonable (central London, remember) until it delivers a dish – a ravishing slurp of wriggly egg pasta dressed with ripest, slow-cooked lamb hugging aniseedy depths – that disappears in a couple of mouthfuls. This is the sort of thing that brings out the worst in certain online commenters, chuntering that £220 would feed a family of 18 for a month, or that in Puglia you can eat for a year for that, or that the best food is eaten at home sometime in the 1950s.
Shortly afterwards, I speak to a chef of my acquaintance who also piled in early doors, all fired up by the enthusiastic pre-publicity. Led by an even more enthusiastic sommelier into trying several glasses (he’d mistakenly assumed, since they were being pressed on him as a member of the biz, that they were “offered”), he and his pal wound up with a bill of £170 a head. For fear of any misunderstanding, that’s each. It pains me to provide the ammunition, but these figures leave me with nowhere to go. So there you are, chunterers, fill your pinchy wee boots.
Marchand is a chef of undoubted talent and wit. There’s an ebullience to his work – the moodiness of star anise in a ragù, the spritz of unusual vinegars. Wines are intriguing, frequently natural and expensive (our savagnin is £58); cocktails bristle with arcana. I long to eat his tortelli again, taut little parcels of ricotta doused in a limpid broth with the deep smokiness of lapsang souchong and fizz from a dusting of “lemon caviar”: a dark powder that is, I think, Oman lemon. He makes hackneyed things taste new – eggs mimosa are given a luxurious titfer of black truffle – and he makes new things excite and enchant. I reckon Frenchie will take on London and win, but this is no insouciant little bistrot. Me, I’ll be sticking to the set lunch. And tap water.
• Frenchie 16 Henrietta Street, London WC2, 020-7836 4422. Open Tues-Sat, noon-2.15pm, 6-10.30pm (Mon & Sun opening to follow). Set lunch £22 for two courses, £28 for three; set dinner £55 for five courses. About £65 a head à la carte, including drinks and service.
Value for money 5/10
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Marina O'Loughlin from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.