Maison Francois

34 Duke Street St, London, SW1Y 6DF, United Kingdom

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Maison Francois is an all-day French brasserie in St James that opened in September 2021. The head chef is Matthew Ryle, who was formerly at The Dorchester; he is supported by pastry chef Jérémy Prakhin. The menu is a la carte and has the kind of classic French dishes that you might expect, with dishes such as gougeres, celeriac remoulade, pate en croute and lemon tart. It looks the part too, all banquettes with wooden screens as well as an open kitchen. 

The wine list had 268 labels and ranged in price from £29 to £2,000, with a median price of £95 and an average markup to retail price of an excessively grasping 3.5 times. The list was 80% French, structured by regional style, but there were also labels from as far away as Slovenia, Georgia and Chile, even Sussex. Sample references were Pour Ma Gueule Clos des Fous Itata 2017 at £45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £14, Bourgogne Epineuil Domaine Gruhier 2018 at £65 compared to its retail price of £23, and Bourgogne Pinot Blanc Domaine Henri Gouges 2017 at £98 for a wine that will set you back £29 in the high street. For those with the means there was Latricières Chambertin Grand Cru Domaine Louis Rémy 2006 at £320 compared to its retail price of £107, and Château Lynch Bages 2000 at £690 for a wine whose current market value is £318. Corkage was £40. 

Comte gougeres were classy, choux pastry with a rich Comte cheese filling with more Comte surrounding the gougeres just for fun. The pastry was excellent and above all the gougeres were warm, which for me is really important (easily 15/20). It seemed odd to serve five gougeres (a prime number) rather than a number that is likely to be divisible by the number of diners. As my dining companion noted, perhaps they just want to have fun seeing people fighting over the last one.

Pate en croute was nice too, the pastry having good texture and the filling having plenty of flavour, with cornichons served on the side. This wasn’t quite up there with the best pate en croute in Lyon, say at La Rotonde, but it was very capable (14/20). Oeuf en gelee was a very pretty dish, with hen’s egg and pieces of ham hock and herbs encased in clear aspic, made from a stock of beef bones. It was cleverly executed but badly lacked seasoning, or I would have scored it at least a point or two higher (12/20). Sourdough, incidentally, was made from scratch in the kitchen and was very good.

Roast chicken was a generous slab of chicken breast served with juices of the chicken, carefully cooked, with a herb crust and having reasonable flavour. As ever with English chicken, you don’t find the wonderful flavour of the best French poultry e.g. Landes chicken or Poulet de Bresse. Nonetheless, it was fine and the meat was accurately cooked, the herbs and jus working nicely together (14/20). Cod was also accurately cooked, with sauce vierge and beurre Café de Paris, a sauce made with chicken stock, butter and mustard (some variants of the sauce use Worcestershire sauce or anchovies). As an historical curiosity, this sauce, which was designed to garnish meats, was actually invented in Switzerland in 1930 by a chef Boubier at a Geneva restaurant called Café de Paris. Back in London, the cod had good texture and the savoury sauce worked well with it, the hint of spice from the mustard nicely enlivening the fish (13/20). It was perhaps a sign of the times that a piece of cod was priced at £35, a level you might associate more with Dover sole or turbot than humble cod. On the side were good pommes frites and some seasonal greens that were lightly cooked to the edge of being under-done.

It was nice to see an old-fashioned dessert trolley hove into view. Displayed on it were assorted appealing offerings, including tarte tatin, chocolate madeleines, salted caramels, strawberry tarts and more. It was interesting that the people on the next table said to the waiter “we were going to skip dessert but then saw the lovely dessert trolley’. We tried lemon tart and Paris Brest. The lemon tart was quite good, having sufficient acidity to be well balanced, though the pastry could have been a little better. I confess to being a lemon tart addict and have had better lemon tarts in my life, with the finest versions I have tried in the UK being the versions at Chez Nico and Harveys in the old days, with this fine dish seemingly out of fashion in London restaurants in recent years. While not recapturing the magic of the version at Nico’s, this was nonetheless a very pleasant dessert (14/20). It was better than the Paris Brest, which had good praline tasting of hazelnuts, but distinctly soggy choux pastry. This is a shame, as with good pastry this would have been quite enjoyable (at best 11/20). 

Coffee was from a company called Origin. Service was excellent, with dishes appearing quite quickly despite the packed service. The bill came to £114 per person including drinks and 15% service. If you ordered a little more carefully, then your bill may be a touch lower than this, but not by very much, perhaps around £90, especially given the wine list. Although this is not exactly a bargain, you are of course in St James, and the standard of cooking is generally quite high here. I enjoyed Maison Francois, and just would have liked a slightly more consistent execution of dishes. At this price point it is unreasonable to expect top caviar and big langoustines, but in some cases the products could be upgraded a bit given the hardly bargain level prices.  What Maison Francois has undeniably done is to latch on to the formula of serving dishes that most people actually want to eat, rather than exotic ingredient combinations showing off how clever and innovative the chef is. At a Tuesday lunch every single seat was taken, which shows there is a market in London for this seemingly obvious yet actually quite unusual approach.  

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  • Upnworld

    Right up your alley and yet, as you said , they let you down with the consistency ! Perhaps Michel Guerard can give them a tip or two, if not the Landes bird.