'I know just what north London needs!" said the Frenchman to his partner, in a French accent, across the living room of their apartment in Kentish Town. "No wait, let me guess…", said Madame to Monsieur, in a similar accent. "A neighbourhood French restaurant where you can get great Parisian food and wine at affordable prices?" "Mon Dieu!" said the Frenchman. "Shall we do it?" And back came her reply: "Oui, oui, oui!"
Such conversations must take place on a weekly basis in London's inner boroughs. A few weeks ago I reviewed Naughty Piglets, a sensational new Brixton venue from a French couple who met in London. Patron, a cave à manger, is a similar venture.
It is the latest undertaking from Tanzi Ellison and Jean-Francois Pioc, a couple who met nine years ago at chef school at Westminster Kingsway College. (And if you read that review of Naughty Piglets, forgive me if this feels like déjà vu.) First, they set up the impressive Café Gourmand in Soho, then, after moving to Kentish Town a couple of years ago, had, in so many words, that conversation.
The result is a lively and enjoyable restaurant, but one which I think will benefit from settling down after the initial burst of chaotic energy. Over the course of a delightful evening here with Henry and Eve, two regular collaborators in this column, there are a series of missteps achingly familiar to anyone who has worked as a waiter in a new venture.
Service is full of smiles and enthusiasm, yet sometimes inattentive. We are hassled about the need to give the table back after two hours, even though we are only four, there are spare seats, and there is no discernible queue of would-be diners.
But the result is forgivable, because it is all pulled off with a bustling Gallic charm, and the short, sharp menu contains a series of classics that are nicely done. Foremost among them is a French onion soup with chunky croutons and grated Comté, which manages to be luxuriously sloppy, filling, salty and pungent for a healthy £6.
Between us we order most of the small plates that dominate the menu. (There are only four main plates.) A bowlful of devils on horseback (£4) are deliciously moreish; and a strongly recommended Camembert fondue (£10) has the words "to share" in brackets next to it, which seems to me a bit misleading, for at least two reasons. First, if you thought this was suitable for a date, you'd soon be relieved of that impression when biting into the hefty chunks of soft garlic. And second, the lovely flavours of thyme, garlic and cornichons, together with the melting texture of the hot cheese, make this the kind of indulgence I like to eat messily on my own.
Then there is a fine steak tartare (£8), with lashings of Dijon, capers and shallot mixed through hand-cut beef from the Yorkshire Dales, served on extremely thin if slightly oily croutons; frogs' legs in garlic butter (£8); and six snails in garlic and parsley butter with French bread (£7). It's all very heavy, smelly, and French, which is good if you're into that sort of thing, but means you'd be well advised to skip lunch.
Of the main plates, the best are moules marinières (quite dear at £19) and a duck confit (£16.50), both of which come with sautéed potatoes, frites or vegetables. From the charcuterie and cheeseboard we also have some excellent duck rillettes with cornichons (£5). You'll notice that the menu is quite limited in range, but no kitchen is obliged to cater to all tastes, and one person's limited range is another's laudable focus.
Alas, the desserts are poor. Warm tarte aux pommes (£6) is undercooked and flat, and comes with a bland vanilla ice cream; and the salty caramel and chocolate mousse is very pedestrian, devoid of flavour. It needs more of everything, and a far less dense texture.
These sad notes on which to end will, like the service, improve with time. London isn't short of French restaurants, but I guess certain neighbourhoods are – and I reckon the good people of Kentish Town will be giving thanks for Patron years from now, and wishing their owners well, as do I.
26 Fortess Road, London NW5 Tel: 020 7813 2540. £75 for two, with drinks
Four more foodie notes from the past week
My mum makes exquisite fried, savoury doughnuts out of this starchy, spongy substance.
Sweet potato wedges served with Lemongrass creme fraiche
From Ottolenghi. Sublime. Middle-class heaven.
Had some of this mozzarella and cream mixture on a very indulgent recent Tuscan jaunt. Utterly delicious.
My favourite cocktail. I had a decent version at the Four Sisters bar in Canonbury in north London.Reuse content