If there's one thing Rowley Leigh should know, it's how to write a menu. As head chef of Kensington Place for the past 20 years, this seasoned pioneer of modern Anglo-French cooking wrote a new set menu for every lunch and dinner, every day of the week. By my reckoning, that's around 7,000 menus.
Small wonder, then, that the menu at the newly opened Le Caf Anglais is a blinder a virtual roll call of seasonal produce intelligently worked in familiar, Elizabeth Davidian ways.
It starts by reclaiming the aperitif and the hors-d'oeuvre, so you can match a gin fizz or a white lady with rabbit rillettes or salsify fritters. There are 18 first courses, such as warm smoked-eel salad with bacon, six fish choices, such as grilled Dover sole with sauce vierge, and seven roasts from the mighty French rotisserie, from partridge to rib of beef. There are also 10 vegetable side-dishes and an agreeably stupendous number of desserts and ice-creams.
Still to come are daily lunch specials such as rabbit stew with polenta, and special evening roasts (Monday is haunch of venison with quince pure, Tuesday is Gloucester Old Spot, fennel and garlic). See what I mean? Don't you just want to eat here every Monday and Tuesday for the rest of your life?
Le Caff is jointly owned by Leigh and Charlie McVeigh of Woody's and Bush Bar and Grill fame, along with various well-connected private investors. Those in the know seemingly all from the world of food, arts and letters coolly ignore the fact that it is housed on the old McDonald's site within Whiteley's shopping centre by entering via the dedicated entrance just off Queensway.
The art deco-inspired room takes its cue from the menu: generously grand and full of good things. The vast, sweeping space includes a huge open kitchen, lovely floor-to-ceiling lead-paned windows, curving banquettes, and crisp linen-covered tables. Those seated directly in front of the rotisserie may well need to be basted and turned every 20 minutes or so.
But back to the menu please. I love the silky purity of a smooth Parmesan custard (3) and the casual pub grub appeal of kipper pat with soft-boiled egg (3). A retro-rich, moussey pike boudin in a sea of beurre blanc (8.50) is textbook 1970s cooking.
The service, however, makes me want to tear my hair out. Can't catch an eye. Can't get a wine-list. Finally get it. Wrong wine brought. Can't catch an eye. Finally get the right wine. Wrong wine appears on bill. Next, waiter brings half roast chicken with lemon thyme (15). Waiter spills juices over tablecloth. Waiter places chicken upside-down on plate. Aaagh.
From the grill, a Dover sole (23.50) is overly buttery and overly cooked. The rotisserie chicken (15) is half a good bird, also over-cooked. Better is a lightly gamey spit-roasted half pheasant (16.50) that comes with a mini-choucroute of Morteau sausage, pork, frankfurter and sauerkraut. It feels a bit like two dinners on the one plate, but at least they are two very good dinners. A supple, fleshy Vajra Dolcetto D'Alba 2006 (27.50) from the fairly priced Franco-Italian wine list goes well with both of them.
A dessert of quince, pear and almond tart (6.50) is, again, over-cooked, but why would you eat pudding when the divine Vacherin Mont d'Or is in season? The entire runny cheese is brought to the table with a spoon for just 6, an act of generosity that could send them out of business.
There is a lot to like at Le Caff above all, the idea of a restaurant essentially drawn up and driven by a home-grown chef with intelligence and integrity. But it still has a way to go, needing more time to come to grips with the vagaries of the rotisserie, and to bed down its staff. When it does, it could grow into one of the most loved and luvviest joints in town.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets
Le Cafe Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W8, tel: 020 7221 1415. Lunch and dinner daily. Around 120 for two, including cover charge, service and wine
Second helpings: More rotisseries to relish
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