Otto's, 182 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1

Good things come to he who waits. He, in this case, being the most singular waiter one could hope to meet, says Amol Rajan.

To the casual observer, one of the key distinguishers of French cuisine is the participation of very refined old men in waiting tables. Naturally there are exceptions; British, Indian and even American restaurants do have the odd wandering gentleman clearing plates and wiping surfaces. But in France, grown men seem generally much more relaxed about doing this than elsewhere. Being a waiter there is considered a privilege, not a gap-year adventure.

Yet you could look from Bordeaux to Brest, Paris to Perpignon and struggle to find a man more in keeping with this tradition than Otto Albert Tepasse – and he was born in Germany. He is the eponymous owner and maître d' of this restaurant on the Gray's Inn Road in Holborn, central London – just up from where The Times used to be, and ITN is now – and one of the most spectacular-looking men in the city.

Under narrow eyes set wide apart and a gentle, greying side-parting, he sports a vast European nose and flashes an erudite and mostly toothless smile. These features flit about between tables at great speed, like a hovercraft on turbo boosters; and the heat of the restaurant means he sweats constantly. These aspects of his visage combine to provide an immense sense of reassurance. The nose looks as though it's been dipped into a billion vintages. Perhaps the toothlessness was a price worth paying for a life of good food. And the sweat is humbling rather than horrible: I like a waiter to suffer for our pleasure. All told, the harmony between French zest and German efficiency personifies a reminder of what the European Union was founded to achieve.

And that's before we even get into the grub. But dear me – what fantastic grub! You can get the Canard de la Rouen à la Presse, which uses a 19th-century approach to cooking duck developed at the famed Tour d'Argent in Paris – but you have to order it well in advance. The ducks come from the House Burgaud in Challans. It's all rather spectacular, but the trouble is it's £120 for two. For all I know, this could be excellent value; but on the assumption that it's out of your price range, I'm choosing from elsewhere on the menu.

From the starters, the scallops in shell (£12.50) with vegetable julienne and lemongrass nage – a foamy sauce – is unimprovably magnificent. The sauce is creamy and rich and pungent, and coats the scallops in just the right quantity. A foie-gras terrine (£12.50) comes with excellent apricot-and-ginger compote, on a walnut-and-corn bread. I have a soft spot for snails, and the posse that turns up here, drowning in garlic and buttery joy with crispy ham in the mix (£18.95) is just sublime.

From the mains, both the roast saddle of rabbit with crunchy spring cabbage, Jersey Royals, pancetta and mustard sauce (£19.50), and a beef tartare with potato rosti (£24) are very good. My pan-fried beef with rosti, mushrooms and a fine truffle-and-port sauce is a fraction too gristly for my liking, especially at £24.95; but the filleted John Dory with Provençal vegetables and crushed potato with basil (£22.50) is delicious.

There is a range of fabulous desserts, from vanilla crème brûlée to macaronade with pistachio cream and fresh strawberries (both £6.50) and – my favourite – profiteroles with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream (£6.25). What I like about the first and last of these is that this vanilla isn't a euphemism for "bland", but as the thumping addition of a truly great flavour. As for the wines, they are as varied, lovely and expensive as you'd expect.

None of this is cheap, and though we see a couple of children in this small room, it's not a family-meal-out kind of place. It could probably best be described as a decent lunch spot for the lawyers of Clerkenwell, or a romantic treat for the refined palates of the ITN media types. Either way, the experience really is made by the presence of Otto himself. We have barely spoken to him, yet on leaving it feels like we know – from his food and his brow – a great deal about this charismatic man. And his passion makes me want to come back.

8/10

Otto's,182 Gray's Inn Road, London WC1, tel: 020 7713 0107. £100 for two, including a bottle of wine

Three more Gallic greats

Kendell's Bistro

Low-lit, with candles everywhere, this city-centre bistro offers some real treats, including a great pre-theatre menu.

3 St Peter's Square, Leeds, tel: 0113 243 6553

Didier and Stephanie's

A fairly traditional and romantic sort of place, where the ever-changing menu wins a consistent thumbs-up.

56 St Helen's Road, Swansea, tel: 01792 655 603

Mirabelle

Yorkshire meets Alsace at this recent arrival, where chef Lionel Strub's dishes have instantly won a following.

28a Swan Road, Harrogate, tel: 01423 565 551

Reviews extracted from 'Harden’s London and UK Restaurant Guides 2013', www.hardens.com

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
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

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'