Aubaine, 37-45 Kensington High Street, London W8

Though it seems like a clever portmanteau word, yoking together "auberge" and "urbane", Aubaine is French for a godsend, a fortunate windfall or a stroke of luck. The owners have struck it lucky in London three times already, opening branches of their chain and flourishing in Brompton Road, Regent Street and the Shoe Galleries at Selfridges, despite online reports about the Parisian rudeness of the staff.

Aubaine's owners started out as patissiers, after recoiling from the horror of English pain blanc typique, and an impressive display of seedy and raisiny breads is the first thing you notice at their new Kensington address. The second thing you notice is that the restaurant is pitched some inches below street level – as if the floor sank after a small earthquake, but the lunchers were too British to complain. The third thing you notice is that it's crammed with Kensington Ladies.

Every table, it seemed, was awash with London W8 dames in their forties and fifties, their well-bred thighs tucked into jeans, their lovely throats warmed with lambswool scarves, Brora polos, shawl-necked cardigans, their hair carefully unruly, their conversation full of pointing fingers and effortful laughter. Six early-thirtysomethings occupied a table by the entrance, resembling an early episode of Sex and the City. An oversized Miranda Hart clone was lunching her snow-haired mama. What strikes you about the clientele isn't just the prevailing X-chromosome; it's the sense of entitlement they bear, as if they've been lunching here for years, though it's only been open a few days.

The décor is faux-rustic, possibly ordered from the Baileys mail-order catalogue. The floor is wooden, ditto the painted chairs, the tables (some zinc-topped) and the cupboards that house wine bottles behind wire-mesh doors. Wood-framed mirrors line the walls. Plastic olive trees in the windows obscure the view of the London buses grinding past outside and might convince a very impressionable person that they were in Provence.

The menu is unadventurous French cuisine, and the dishes come in twos, as if seeking entrance to Noah's Ark: two goat's cheese starters, two carpaccios, two tendril-waving seafoods, two mildly exciting vegetarian dishes (artichoke with mozzarella and tomatoes, winter vegetables with duck egg and truffle potato). Among the mains were harmless fish dishes (lobster, cod, seabass, sole) for the laydeez, some butch steaks, "aged" for 35 days, and corn-fed chicken, but nothing suggestive of a signature dish, or of anything that would test the skills of a first-rounder on Masterchef: The Professionals.

The French waiter wasn't much help with the choice. When I asked what exactly was going on, apart from chicken, in the chicken pot-au-feu, he looked at me as if tired of such fatuous enquiries. "Ees 'ome-made," he finally ventured.

What made my jaw drop was the prices. When my guest Madeleine had the roast scallops with Jerusalem artichokes and cep confit, I expected more, for 16 quid, than the four anaemic lumps of shellfish on their beige purée. It was, however, delicious ("Very sweet and tender scallops," she said. "Comforting but not heavy on the carbs"), as was my octopus carpaccio. Pinkish slivers of cephalopod, accessorised by salad leaves across which a single chilli lay like a long green threat, it was perfectly dressed.

The main courses arrived with dizzying speed. Madeleine, having scarcely drawn breath after the artichoke mash, regarded her roast cod and red-wine-braised squid with a weary eye. But soon she was enthusing about its pan-fried, lightly seared, charcoaled fishiness, how well it balanced the fennel, all of it soothed by a green pea sauce. My free-range pork chop was delicious, bonding with the soft chunks of lightly-cooked apple like Julie Andrews encountering the junior von Trapps.

In spite of my earlier sneers about the décor and clientele, Aubaine was working out well. But the pudding course cancelled out some of the goodwill. While we could in theory have chosen ice-cream (yawn), sorbet (nod off), fresh fruit (zzz), or the cheese platter (snore), they urge you to try the lovely cakes displayed on a plate. You can choose an éclair, a raspberry tart, chocolate mousse, orange macaroon or millefeuille. We felt the selection suited late teatime, and when we discovered the pear and almond clafoutis was slabby and boring, we asked whether cakes are really the perfect pudding for W8 ladies. The food is fine at Aubaine, but you have to conquer the feeling that you're being put through a process, rather than being treated to an experience.

When we were leaving, I asked the waiter to let me have a copy of the menu. I always take one home, to check the dishes when I'm writing the review. The waiter returned and said, "I asked the boss about the menu. 'E say 'Nao'." Well, thanks a lot. Was it a sign that they were worried about the dullness of the list? Or just of their being bloody-mindedly French?

Aubaine, 37-45 Kensington High Street, London W8 (020-7368 0950)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 2 stars

About £120 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Vive la France

Galvin La Chapelle

5 Spital Square, London E1 (020-7299 0400)

Pot roast Berkshire pheasant, creamed cabbage, roast salsify and cèpe sauce (£19.50) is a typical dish at this brilliant brasserie.

Auberge du Lac

Welwyn, Hertfordshire (01707 368888)

This lakeside restaurant serves modern French dishes such as hay-baked Pyrenees lamb, anchovy & sweetbread pithivier with couscous.

Casanis

4 Saville Row, Bath (01225 780055)

This corner of France in the West Country serves Gallic classics such as confit duck leg with white bean ragoût and red onion compote.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week