Porters, owned by the Earl of Bradford, was a fixture in Covent Garden for decades, and had a sister restaurant, the Covent Garden Grill. These served traditional British food for 35 years before the landlord refused to renew the property leases, forcing a relocaton to Berkhamsted in 2015. Taking the place of the Covent Garden Grill is a restaurant at the opposite end of the culinary trendiness spectrum. Gregory Marchand trained in a variety of international restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, and had a stint at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, where he gained the nickname “Frenchie”. In April 2009 he (with his wife Marie) opened a restaurant in Paris of that name, and has now applied the same epithet to his first London venture, which opened in early 2016. The dining room has been brightened up considerably, seating 50 upstairs and a further 14 downstairs, where the kitchen is located. In the first year Mr Marchand will spend much of his time here rather than Paris, gradually handing over control of the kitchen to two of his Paris chefs, who have moved over to London.
The wine list had 112 labels ranging in price from £28 to £530, with a median price of £69 and an average mark-up of 3.6 times retail price, which is high even by the exacting standards of central London. It is arranged vaguely by geography, but is too trendy to rely on mere names of regions, instead labelling sections like “Up North” and “Latin is Pumping”. This is clearly regarded as a stroke of genius by the sommelier – obviously such esoteric labels are not only dazzlingly witty but far more useful when tracking down a bottle if you are searching for a wine than pesky labels like “Rhone” or “Italy”. Example bottles included Marc Tempé, Zellenberg Pinot Blanc 2012 at £42 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £12, Domaine Le Soula “Soula Blanc” 2009 at £65 compared to a retail price of £20, and Zind-Humbrecht Clos Windsbuhl 2006 at £105 for a wine that will set you back £29 in a shop.
At lunch there is a three-course menu with a trio of choices at each stage for £28; a more elaborate menu is available at dinner. Bread (from next week) should be from Hedone, an impeccable selection and a vast improvement on the bread that I encountered today.
Cauliflower with quinoa, dates and a mild spice mix worked very well. Cauliflower is a good platform for spices, as every fan of Indian food knows. Here the cauliflower was carefully cooked and the quinoa’s texture worked well with it, the gentle hint of spice lifting the dish (14/20).
Next was whiting (from Cornwall) with button mushrooms, a few shiitake mushrooms and a Meyer lemon puree. Whiting is more familiar as cat food or its mention in the Mock Turtle’s Song in “Alice In Wonderland” than on dinner plates. A relative of cod, whiting has a flavour that an estate agent might call “mild” but a less charitable person might describe as insipid. I quite liked the acidity of the lemon puree, and the mushrooms were fine, but it was hard to get excited about this, even though the fish was correctly cooked (12/20).
For dessert, a variation on a cheesecake had a Brillat savarin base with new season Yorkshire rhubarb, topped with rhubarb sorbet. This was very pleasant, the sharpness of the rhubarb balancing the cheese (13/20). Coffee was from a Paris supplier and was good, rich with some acidity.
The service was led by a capable manager who used to work at Hibiscus. The bill came to £35 per person with just water to drink. If you came for dinner and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head would be more like £70 or so. Overall Frenchie seemed to me an enjoyable restaurant, making the most of non-luxury ingredients with some inventive garnishes. At dinner it might seem a touch pricy for the level of ingredients on offer.Book