Le Garrick ~ Gallic Charm Personified


"Welcome to my living room" said Charles, the charming restaurateur and Patron of Le Garrick, as we were seated at a candle-lit table inside what must surely be one of London's restaurant gems.

An extremely warm welcome greeted us from the moment we arrived and descended the swirling spiral staircase, walking past the bar and through to the far end of the downstairs dining room.

The setting was relaxed and unpretentious - reminding me of those Parisian basement bistros with low ceilings and oodles of character adorning practically every available wall space with old theatre posters, photos and memorabilia. 

This is London's theatre quarter, in the heart of Covent Garden and right opposite the old private members club which also bears the famous actor's name. One might be forgiven for assuming that this unassuming French bistro was either an over priced tourist trap or an underwhelming attempt to bring true classic French flair to central London. Either of these assumptions would be far from the mark and doing a gross disservice to a splendid restaurant that seeks to do things the right way, without compromise whilst somehow remaining affordable - a real accomplishment in this part of town.

Certainly Le Garrick would be an ideal location for a pre or post theatre meal - with a dedicated menu for the theatre crowd and being so well located for the theatre district. But this is not the aspect we'd like to focus on - instead we want to impart to you - our dear readers - just what an altogether splendid and all around excellent restaurant Le Garrick is. We were delighted with our experience which makes our job of relating it both easier and harder. Easier because it brings a smile to our lips as we recall enjoyable experiences - but somehow harder because we don't wish to seem sycophantic or insincere with our praise.

It's right to say that on these pages we only write about experiences we've truly enjoyed. We're not here to relay negative matters or to criticise lesser establishments - there are plenty of sites for that if schadenfreude is your preference. But, occasionally we discover a gem that deserves such unabashed praise that we want to be clear our comments come from the heart. Le Garrick is one such place and so take our advice when we say, go-there and fall in love with your new favourite old friend. 

Charles' mentor was Julian Metcalfe - he of Itsu fame and co-founder of Pret a Manger.
According to Charles, Julian taught him a philosophy of life and the "importance of not compromising with one's principles". That sounds like real humility to us because Charles' own philosophy and approach is exactly the sort which could and should be taught to others. More than one friendly customer has suggested he ought to increase his prices but Charles maintains that what matters is "it's not what I can get away with, it's what's fair and allows me to make a living".

There's a good reason why we're spending time talking about Charles the current 'Head Honcho' at Le Garrick - because he is Le Garrick - spirit and soul. It's evident from speaking with him, his enthusiasm and passion for the restaurant is infectious and is mirrored by the excellent team he works with. That is no exaggeration because most of the current team had only been working at the restaurant for three or four months when we visited but the service was faultless and excellent.

Charles wants his chef to make classical French dishes the way his mother makes them in France - with techniques handed down through the generations. For this reason it's a right of passage for his chef and colleagues to visit his home town in France's Basque region. There they literally learn by watching Charles' Mother making the dishes and sharing those special secret tips. Combine this with professional skills and a deep appreciation for carefully sourced ingredients and the results are simply delicious.

There are small aspects to the ingredients that one might easily not be aware of - other than the tremendous taste. Take, for example, the red peppers used in several of the dishes - these are hung out to dry in the local villages of the Basque region - during which period otherwise white houses become red coloured as they are covered with strewn peppers being dried naturally. These are the peppers used at Le Garrick and are the kind of touches that elevate away from the ordinary. It's not about some sort of bourgeois exclusivity but rather the careful care of bringing something authentic to our plates and sharing the true tastes of France. 

Which brings us neatly to our delightful meal. We started with a glass of Kir Royal and an Assiette de Charcuterie - a plate of cold meats from France's South West region accompanied with a home made chicken liver parfait and confit sweet peppers and olives.

This prepared our palates for a truly delectable Foie Gras from the South West of France, served on a toasted brioche with home made pear chutney and an ideal partner for a glass of Monbazillac.

The home made traditional French onion soup was equal to any we've ever had. That's high praise indeed because we've had some spectacular examples of this classic heart-warming dish including those served in the Alps. The one we had here was easily as good if not better, with an extraordinary depth of flavour.

Next came escargots Bourgogne - snails served the traditional Burgundy way with a garlic and parsley sauce. Alongside the snails we had one of the menu's highlights - pan seared calamari. These were quite simply a revelation combining depth of flavour with tenderness and a surprising yet pleasingly balanced taste combination allowing all of the distinct flavours of chilli, ginger and coriander to stand out clearly and in harmony whilst the texture remained completely tender - fine Basque cooking at its best.

Moules Marinières epitomised the classic French dish of mussels cooked in white wine with shallots, parsley and a touch of cream. 

Along with our selection of delicious starters we enjoyed a 2013 Patrice Armand, la Chapelle de Marin, Côtes du Rhône - an easy drinking Grenache and a perfect match for the Basque flavours. 

Onto the mains and given the array of appetising items on Le Garrick's menu - having seen the quality and care served up thus far - deciding on a main was a challenging decision. On the recommendation of Luca Cigliano - the restaurant's charming General Manager, I opted for Magret de Canard a l'orange - duck breast with orange sauce. This proved to be an inspired selection - the duck was moist and tender, yet deeply flavoursome with orange sauce marrying sweetness and sharpness, sitting on a bed of spinach and silky smooth mashed potatoes, an unfussy delicious plate of food letting the quality ingredients and accomplished cooking speak for themselves.

We moved on to an extremely satisfying and highly recommended Syrah - a deep purple red wine, the Syrah Vin de Pays du Comte de Grignan 2012, which balanced luscious dark fruits with peppery notes.

My fellow Ambassador of Food and dining companion thoroughly enjoyed her selection - fish of the day - a perfectly cooked Red Snapper served with sautéed potatoes and garden vegetables and which T described as a "testament to the freshness of the ingredients".  

Before our sweets arrived we enjoyed a delectable cheese board containing some absolute star attraction cheeses, rustic French bread and home made caramelised onion jam with walnutsA sublime goats cheese from an altitude of just below 1800 meters in the Pyrenees, an exquisite Gruyere from Savoir, an exceptional Brillat-Savarin and a Bleu de Bleu from Normandy - somewhat similar to Roquefort but stronger.

Desserts were completely consistent with the excellent dishes we'd been served so far. A warm chocolate fondant - that nemesis of so many Master Chef contestants - so easy to make too sweet or too bitter or too dry or too wet and hot or just plain too imperfectly - was perfect. The ideal consistency, temperature and balance with an oozing centre served with an lovely vanilla ice cream. Rather impressive from an affordable family restaurant that bills itself as a humble local bistro. 

Our Crème brulée and home made Tarte au Citron were equally impressive, offering simply faultless examples of these classic French desserts.

Even these highly accomplished classic deserts were out-gunned by my utterly delectable Café Gourmand, a small selection of Le Garrick's favourites, served with an excellent coffee and a digestive. The tiny Madeleine would have inspired Marcel Proust to recall all kinds of high brow references. The miniature Rum Baba delighted and the whole plate reached a crescendo with a deceptively simple looking fruit compote that somehow married lush creaminess with sour tartness and sweet berries.

We've explored aspects of love before on these pages - we've been wooed and have cooed over all kinds of fabulous food and drink, we've met passionate chefs and foodies who care deeply - but even with all of our experience we were utterly smitten by this humble, unassuming and exquisite restaurant that reflected the care and heart of everyone working there. It's not surprising that Le Garrick is in the running to be Harden's most romantic restaurant. Charles met his wife Dominika there, he also proposed to her there and many others have proposed to their betrothed on bended knee within the warm romantic candle-lit glow of this exquisite French brasserie. On the night we happened to be there we heard the restaurant's team sing at least four separate renditions of "joyeux anniversaire", and alongside birthdays there were several couples celebrating wedding anniversaries; it's not surprising so many opted for Le Garrick as the ideal setting to celebrate their special day.

It's practically impossible not to fall for Le Garrick's Gallic charms - a restaurant that immediately feels like a long lost friend - where one instantly catches-up from where one left-off and where one can feel right at home, feeling the sort of contentment normally reserved for spending time with close friends and family - combined with excellent service and expert cooking - it's the secret ingredient to a great restaurant experience and we strongly recommend you visit Charles' "living room". 

Le Garrick Brasserie Restaurant

10-12 Garrick Street
London WC2E 9BH

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