FIRST BITE / Lie back and think of France: Emily Green eats very different food for the same price at two new French restaurants

MENU French is commonly regarded as pretentious, like the accents of waiters in French restaurants. But anybody who has worked in a large, hectic kitchen knows it to be a genuine creation of cooks battling their way through the people and the noise. They call out orders in whatever language is understood quickly. Donne-moi le sel] Salt] Ca] That] Traces of this kitchen Franglais show up on the menu at La Semillante, a new Mayfair restaurant: 'Supreme of red mullet with aromates', 'Brochette of escargot' and so on.

It is not the only thing that shows on the menu. Reclining across the cover is a near-naked woman, who is presumably the inspiration for the restaurant's name. Semillante means vivacious. By contrast, she looks as though she has been on her back for a while and means to stay that way.

Our columnist Gastropod predicted that this restaurant would be a success. It is early days and the staff themselves, only four weeks into trading, are still somewhat unsure.

The restaurant consists of an airy, brightly decorated ground floor reception/bar with plaster of Paris drapes, and a large dining room downstairs. Both floors are handsomely fitted, with tables generously spaced. The Ogee motifs which look like a misguided embellishment are leftovers from the days when this was an Indian restaurant.

The menu is priced at pounds 26 for three courses - very reasonable for this part of town or, indeed, for anywhere, given the generous use of such expensive ingredients as pigeon, caviare, scallops, snails and oysters.

Meals begin with small, very salty brochettes, and canapes with scallops and foie gras. Starters were deft: snails cooked on a skewer, oyster and raw salmon in a light jelly from the oyster juice that gave the dish a zesty blast of the sea. It was the best dish of the meal - it could make you shudder and exclaim - as if you had just had a swim.

The main courses were passable. Beef fillet was poached in a veal and chicken consomme and served with melting shallots. The beef was, perhaps, a bit high for this treatment, leaving a slightly sour taste. Sauteed sweetbreads were served in strips, having bled away much of their juice on the kitchen chopping board.

The chef and co-proprietor, Patrick MacDonald Woodside, is the veteran of a series of French kitchens, including Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, La Tante Claire and Harvey's, where he worked on the pastry station. He no longer occupies that area, which was perhaps evinced by an over-cooked souffle. The staff are polite and solicitous, just the conductors for a cautiously chic outfit.

L'ESTAMINET, according to my dinner guest, the French cookery writer Marie Pierre Moine, is a medieval term for 'little joint'. Picture a big roast on a spit in the hearth with eggs cooking in the pan juices, cheap wine in clay jugs, buxom wenches and you have the Technicolor Fifties Hollywood version. This bears no resemblance to L'Estaminet on the borders of Covent Garden. None.

It might well mean 'bistro adapted for London', for this is the new restaurant of a French group that includes one of Chez Gerard's founders, Christian Bellone, who sold that Fitzrovia restaurant three years ago. L'Estaminet appeared last year.

Like Chez Gerard, it aims to provide no-nonsense bistro cooking. Unlike Chez Gerard, the atmosphere is slightly flat and prices are noticeably higher.

Some of the food is good. As a starter, a brochette of mussels with saffron rice was simple and well seasoned, although the mussels were the small, French type and were over-cooked: bigger British ones would better suit the skewer. Bay leaves and lardons had been intermixed and good olive oil trickled over the dish. The fish soup was fine, gritty with what was probably ground lobster shell and a heavy lacing of cayenne. The lamb chops were small, succulent and gamey.

But some dishes were disappointing, such as the duck salad, made with too-rare meat, surrounded by leaves tossed in a harsh, over-vinegared dressing. Sea bass was skinned and taken off the bone and served with indifferent Jersey new potatoes. The result was a sad, grey-white dish.

For the last two courses, two trolleys moved into action. The first was loaded with ripe cheeses, good water biscuits and slightly spongy but flavoursome walnut bread. The next carried lots of lurid, sticky little flans, and options of raspberries and cream.

La Semillante, 5 Mill Street, London W1 (071-499 2121). Approx pounds 40 per person including aperitif, three courses, wine, coffee, service and VAT. Vegetarian meals; best to inform when booking. Children welcome. Smoking upstairs only. Air- conditioning. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat. Major credit cards except Amex.

L'Estaminet, 14 Garrick Street, London WC2 (071-379 1432). Approx pounds 40- pounds 45 for four courses, wine, coffee, service and VAT. Low-level jazz music. Vegetarian dishes. Children welcome. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Sat. Major credit cards except Diner's.

(Photograph omitted)

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn