Pre-Theatre Feast

On a recent visit to London Don Qui decided to try out a restaurant he has not been to before. Looking for a place that offered an early supper so he could go to a play, he settled on Blanchette on the Regent Street side of Soho.

It was a very good choice. Offering ‘French style sharing plates’ Blanchette was perfect for a relatively light meal with lots of interesting and tasty morsels on offer.

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Blanchette is a relatively small establishment and at 5pm the place was already heaving, helped by the warm spring day. Several diners sat at the bar by the wide open window or outside, enjoying both the food and the far too infrequent English sun.

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Between him and Duchess, DonQui sampled crispy frogs legs, goat’s cheese, chicken breast in a morel sauce with asparagus and peas, crispy squid, and probably the best pommes frites he has ever tasted along with béarnaise sauce for dipping. This was all washed down with an excellent Beaujolais and finished off with a near perfect creme brûlée and a calvados.

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The crispy frogs legs and crispy squid were both battered and fried with herby batter being the dominant taste. It was probably a mistake to order both but when DonQui explained that this was why he had not eaten all the squid the kindly waitress offered to take it off the final bill.

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Service was friendly and knowledgeable and the place had a relaxed vibe. As DonQui likes to take his time over a meal he felt that the dishes perhaps came a bit too quickly in succession for his taste. If one was in a bit of a hurry to make it to the theatre on time then this would not necessarily be a bad thing.

Good eating in London

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It is easy to eat well in London if one has lots of dosh.

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It is even easier to come away from an eating establishment feeling either ripped off or having had to make do with sub-standard food of dubious origins and even more dubious cooking techniques.

If you know where to go, this wonderful cosmopolitan city offers an incredible variety of fantastic foods influenced by every country around the globe.

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DonQui is a bit of a francophile and if push comes to shove, he has to admit that French food and style are almost always his first choices. There are plenty of good French restaurants in London, partly down to the hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen and women who have made London their home in recent times. This is not a new phenomenon. French exiles came to London in their hundreds of thousands at the time of the Huguenot exodus in the 17th century. Kettners in Soho (which sadly closed earlier this year after 149 years) was founded by Napoleon III’s chef in the 1800s while the French House, just around the corner, was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle and the French resistance during the Second World War.

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For a simple, high quality, meal in the west end of London, Prix Fixe is DonQui’s first choice. On Dean Street in the heart of Soho it offers French brasserie style food and ambiance at very reasonable prices. The pre-7pm menu has 2 courses for just over £10 while the later fixed menu has 3 courses for £25. DonQui has eaten here many times in the past and tonight he is delighted to find that the quality and ambiance remains as good as ever.

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Being a notorious gourmand, DonQui opts to shell out the £3 supplement for the foie gras terrine starter and he feels that it is worth every extra penny.

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Another supplement (£6 this time) lands him with a main course of entrecôte steak frites. Ordered medium rare the steak is beautifully seared on the outside while remaining pink and juicy in the middle. The frites are proper French fries — thin and wonderfully crisp while still soft on the inside. DonQui’s only complaint (and this is his finicky taste buds rather than a mistake in the kitchen) is the mustard dressing on the lovely green salad. Unfortunately DonQui has a near allergic reaction to mustard.

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Washed down with an excellent glass of Côtes du Rhône and finished off with an adffogato (an Italian classic rather than a French one) DonQui once again enjoys a wonderful meal in a relaxing atmosphere while watching the streets of Soho come to life as night falls.

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When it comes time to pay the bill, DonQui feels that he has had great value for money. He will come again.

A Stroll Through Soho

Avid readers of his blog will not be surprised to find DonQui in Soho. After all he made a promise to himself yesterday while wandering around Piccadilly.

DonQui likes Soho. Full of eating, drinking and entertainment establishments there are plenty of possibilities for a decent lunch or a good night on the town. There are still even a few naughty places left over from its 1950s-70s heyday as London’s capital of sleaze, not that DonQui knows anything about such matters. Although rather gentrified now, there is just enough grit left for DonQui to feel that that the area has not become too sanitised.

Bypassing the tourist hell of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, DonQui heads straight for the back streets to the north of Shaftesbury Avenue.

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A stroll up Berwick Street reveals plenty of options for good  food. From the fruit and vegetable sellers…

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to salads…

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and even fish and chips; there is plenty on offer if you don’t have the time for a sit-down lunch.

Before too long, DonQui finds himself on Dean Street. This is where he usually finds himself when he is in Soho as it houses some of his favourite stopping off places.

Prix Fixe

Prix Fixe is an excellent lunch or dinner spot in the manner of a French brasserie. They have a set menu offering incredibly good value in a relaxed atmosphere. Inevitably DonQui ends up having a steak-frites as his main course. The frites are proper thin french style — crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

French House

The French House, a bit further down Dean St, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes. During the second world war it was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle’s Free French and this is the root of the name. The French House still retains its character and is a perfect place to meet for a drink before going to dinner or for turning a lunch into an all afternoon affair. French and Belgian beers are on tap, served in half pint glasses only, and they also have some excellent Breton cider.

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Favoured by actors, writers, bohemians and all sorts or reprobates it is about as far as one can get from a blonde wood and chrome chain pub. There is no music, no slot machines, no sports on television and woe betide anyone who uses a mobile phone.

Just the sort of place DonQui likes.

Coach and Horses

The Coach and Horses around the corner on Greek Street used to be another haunt. It was a ‘proper boozer’ and one of the few remaining Soho stalwarts. Sadly, since the departure of Norman in 2006, it has begun to tidy itself up. Norman, who ran the pub for 62 years was the self-proclaimed ‘rudest pub landlord in Britain’ and would not tolerate boring people nor anything that might get in the way of lively conversation or proper drinking.

DonQui drops in for a quick pint and is horrified to learn that it has now become a vegetarian pub. He shakes his head in disbelief and thinks that Peter O’Toole and Francis Bacon (who were once regulars) must be turning in their graves.

DonQui also Recommends
Andrew Edmunds 46 Lexington St for a cosy, intimate atmosphere, high quality food and a great wine list — a good place to take a date.
Ronnie Scott’s 47 Frith St, for a night of top end jazz with big names often playing there. A Soho institution since 1959
Bar Italia 22 Frith Street for a proper Italian espresso in a proper Italian atmosphere. Across the street from Ronnie Scott’s it has been running since 1949
Pizza Express 10 Dean Street for both good pizza and good jazz. Although DonQui generally avoids chains he makes an exception for this one. There is nothing chain-like about the Jazz Club downstairs.
La Boheme 13 Old Compton St for a lively atmosphere from breakfast through to dinner and then late drinks. The public face of the original Soho House (once a fine members club and now an industry) it is a good place to go for the buzz rather than an expectation of exceptional or good value food.
Ain’t Nothing But the Blues Bar, 20 Kingly St for a lively buzzing atmosphere and great live blues until the wee hours of the morning.