I like the brasseries in Paris. Open 24 hours a day, they serve up big eater, big flavour food.
I like the brasseries in Paris. Open 24 hours a day, they serve up big eater, big flavour food. So I was excited to hear that a new take on le brasserie was opening up in London. Chez Kristof is owned by Jan Woroniecki, the man behind Baltic and Wodka. I have to admit, when I saw the K in Kristof I thought, OK, more beetroot and dumplings. But it sings straight from the brasserie hymnal. I was beyond excitement.
The place occupies a corner of an elegant, tree-lined Hammersmith street. It's a residential area that sees a lot of life - high and low. With floor to ceiling windows, the diners at Chez Kristof don't miss a thing. The interior is comfortable, with muted banquettes and lighting, and has the feel of a neighbourhood restaurant. That's quite an achievement after only a few weeks of business.
Chez Kristof is busy already. A brasserie must be busy - and have intellectuals, discussing 1968 and existentialism. Oh, well - one out of two ain't bad. Before I saw the menu, I was hoping for a bit of "trickle-down" gastronomy, an idea that's big in Paris right now. Cafés and bistros are imitating the top restaurants, but cutting down on the ingredients and simplifying the preparation. But Chez Kristof has other ideas. It is offering up honest-to-goodness regional French cooking.
I started with bagna cauda (£3.50) - a comforting dish of warm anchovies and garlic. It was served with crudités. I say crudités - these bad boys were actually whole carrots. The leeks, which came with a poached egg, beurre blanc and crispy bacon (£5.90), were woefully underdone. It was as if someone had forgotten to put them in hot water. And the sautéed sweetbreads (5.50) arrived cold.
Which was a shame, because they were in a delicious casserole of beetroot, cocoa beans and Swiss chard. Is all chard Swiss? Or are there rival national chards which just lack Switzerland's marketing budget? Anyway, after a disappointing start I was ready for a taste of the cassoulet (£12.50).
Legend has it that a French bootmaker used to hang a sign outside his shop in Carcassone. It read, simply, "Closed on Account of Cassoulet". The making, the eating or the recuperation? Or all three? We may never know, but what is known is that there are three types of cassoulet which form the "Holy Trinity". There's the "Father" from Castelnaudary (pork and goose), the "Son" from Carcassone (mutton and partridge), and the "Holy Ghost" from Toulouse (sausage, mutton and duck).
At Kristof we got the Holy Ghost. One guest proclaimed that the flavours gradually revealed themselves, like the mountain ranges in a Japanese print. The beans held their shape. And there was a generous portion of confit and sausage. Normally, with a restaurant cassoulet, there's no trace of crust. It's hard to retain, when the dish is reheated to order. But, at Chez Kristof, they managed. Full marks for that.
But the service was a different story. It was like Fawlty Towers. Our water didn't turn up. Our lentils did - unfortunately we hadn't ordered any lentils. Our wine was corked. So was the wine on table eight. And the family in the corner had to call the manager because their chicken hadn't arrived. The waiter kept promising "two minutes" but, after an hour, the table lost faith. Who can blame them?
The lighter eater is catered for at Chez Kristof with simple Provençal vegetable dishes and salads. But there was nothing that caught my eye. The skate wing Grenobloise (£13) was so salty I suspect the capers hadn't been washed. The judicious tang of the little buds was lost altogether, and the delicious fish was virtually inedible. Which does rather beg the question - what's going on in the kitchen?
The desserts (all at £4.50) were of limited ambition. Peach melba and the crème brûlée left me cold, so I went for sorbet - I liked the fact it was served with bugnes. The rich eggy pastries soaked up the fruit beautifully. To pay, I had to chase the waiter with my credit card. The sad thing was that I couldn't run very fast. My stomach was so full it groaned. Or maybe that was my arteries. E
Chez Kristof, 111 Hammersmith Grove, London W6, 020-8741 1177
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