The French Connection

Image: Nicolas Buisson

Gregory Marchand’s latest restaurant, Frenchie Covent Garden, is a welcome addition, finds Jessica Jonzen

Covent Garden is enjoying something of a moment. For decades a theme park for tourists, this central London enclave has come out of the Punch and Judy doldrums to establish itself as a newly buzzy hotspot. Petersham Nurseries has branched out from Richmond to open an ‘unparalleled lifestyle destination’ there, and The Shop at Bluebird has flown from its Chelsea home to Carriage Hall on Floral Street, making WC2E a new mecca for women serious about clothes. Other recent starry openings include The Henrietta Hotel – Ollie Dabbous’ venture, The Oysterman, By Chloe and Avobar – the first avocado bar in London. What a time to be alive!

Leading the charge with the ousting of bland chain restaurants has been Frenchie Covent Garden. The London outpost of Frenchie, Gregory Marchand’s fêted restaurant, wine bar and wine shop on the Rue de Nil in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement, this is the chef ’s grand return to the British capital.

Image: Virginie Garnier

Having worked at the Savoy, Mandarin Oriental and Fifteen for Jamie Oliver – who gave him the nickname ‘Frenchie’ – Marchand’s return to London was greeted with almost feverish anticipation. When Frenchie Covent Garden opened at the beginning of 2016, it was nigh on impossible to get a table.

Two-and-a-half years on, reservations are easier to come by, but on the evening we visited Frenchie was still full, fizzing with atmosphere, despite a certain froideur to the fit-out.

While Marchand’s original Frenchie has a grungy but accessible feel, its little sister is more glamorous and fashionable – very new Covent Garden. Staff in shirtsleeves, braces and bow-ties were effusive in their welcome, bringing us a cocktail and asking us to suggest a name for it. The menus change impressively regularly.

Happily, there are some key dishes on the menu that remain year-round. I am delighted that one of them is the bacon scone with maple syrup and clotted cream. This might just be one of the most delicious things that I have ever eaten. Warm and unctuous, salty and sweet, I don’t know how the staff here manage to stay so svelte. Possibly because the scones – like many of the portions – are frustratingly tiny. I’m all for leaving people wanting more, but not when it comes to food this good.

Image: Jade Nina Sarkhel

The lamb ragu pappardelle with black olives, lemon and Espelette (a type of pepper) was a bold and flavoursome starter, and the salmon tartare with radish and chive sabayon was perfectly cut through with citrus.

The glazed chicken leg with roasted carrots, pearl barley and homemade harissa was beautifully cooked – juicy, tender and full of flavour. My husband chose the Cornish hake with bacon, spring vegetables and mint, and looked rather jealously at my dish. Sides of grilled asparagus with tarragon sabayon and a potato terrine with Parmesan fondue were very welcome, and the sommelier matched some quite extraordinary natural wines and even a cider with our food.

Image: Virginie Garnier

The lavender crème brûlée with rosemary shortbread was a beautiful pudding but the signature banoff ee with nutmeg and caramelised pecan was too sweet for me.

Gregory Marchand’s menu is full of wit and charm and really excellent cooking, which stands to make Frenchie Covent Garden every bit as popular as her Parisian big sister. We’d like her even better if the portions were a little bigger.

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