What does the word ‘brasserie’ mean to you? Banks of bistro tables and beautifully aged and distressed mirrors? Well-dressed waiting staff carrying trays of steak frites, and the discreet pop of a vintage wine bottle? Or the sound of laughter and chatter, and being able to relax in a place that’s warm and welcoming yet classy?
These are just a few images to sum up the traditional brasserie you might know from trips to France, be it Paris or Alsace – and it’s a soupçon of this culinary loveliness that Chez Antoinette is bringing to a surprisingly quiet London backwater a short walk from Victoria and St James stations, in Palmer Street a stroll behind Victoria Street. Or, as Aurelia Noel, co-owner of the brassier with her husband, Jean-Baptiste, puts it, food that’s as authentic as her French ‘Grand-mere’ used to make.
The best brasseries are bustling with activity while being laid-back and relaxed at the same time, and that’s very much the vibe that greets you as you enter the foyer of Chez Antoinette Victoria.
We don’t have to stare at the handsome ceramic black and white chequered floor for long before we’re met by the maitre-D, a charming young man, who swiftly allocates a staff member to take us to our table. We’re whisked past animated diners on the ground floor who are already tucking into their confits and pichets, and settled upstairs on the mezzanine level.
From our balcony, we have a bird’s eye view of the cosy French-inspired decor – lacy half-curtains, white pendant ball lamps and tons of polished brass (it’s a brasserie after all). There are wooden sideboards (the sort where the baguettes are stashed away) and some fine family heirloom-style photographs and amusingly bad oil paintings.
The Food & Drink
The Noels say their menus – both Antoinette Victoria and the original, which opened Covent Garden in 2014 – are inspired by Parisian cafes and the ‘Guinguette-style’ restaurants of Lyon, with a mind to reinterpreting classic dishes from tarts to tartines, and treating fresh seasonal ingredients with a modern sensibility.
The lovely Manon, who is French and happy to be studying in London, talked us through the Winter Menu. For drinks, Antoinette’s happy hour is a big buzz in SW1, apparently – and if we’d arrived between 4.30-6.30pm I might have partaken of the French Negroni, made with G’Vine Floraison gin, La Quintinye Royal red vermouth, Campari and orange slice. I had a glass of red, a very delicious Domaine De La Haute Marone ‘Le Cru des Dentelles de Montmirail’ Gigondas, Rhône ’19. My other half, Yosi, had freshly squeezed orange juice.
We skipped the aperitifs, though the saucisson and gherkins with sourdough bread and butter being tucked into by the family on the next table looked tempting.
For starters, I fancied the snails in parsley and garlic butter, and how French can you get if not with escargots? Manon said they’d come all the way from Burgundy, and I had to stop myself from asking how long it had taken them at a snail’s pace. Instead, I ordered pan-fried king prawns with garlic butter; they were smothered in garlicky spirulina-green pesto sauce and were juicy and moreish (a few more of these crustaceans wouldn’t have gone amiss). Yosi had the French onion soup with Emmental toast, which he said was ‘excellent’ the umami-deliciousness of the broth was intensified by the hot cheesy bread lid floating on top.
I warned him to be careful with the condiments – he’d pushed the salt and pepper precariously close to the table edge, where it could easily fall off, through the balcony’s balustrades and possibly hit someone. below. As I was lecturing him, I brushed the table – and dropped my fork, which slid through and plummeted to the floor below. Thankfully it didn’t hit anyone, although the party of men it bounced close to found it hilarious and a bit slapstick. The management said they had intended to add a safety net around the balcony for some time and now definitely would be doing that.
For mains, I chose the Bavette steak, pommes persillade, and broccoli with green pepper sauce. I was expecting the steak to be delicious, as it’s a brasserie staple, though it was a little chewy and not what I’d hoped. The confit leg of duck with pomme purée, cherry tomatoes and red wine sauce Yosi ordered was also a little too salty (we know it’s made that way, brined in salt but still) and didn’t live up to his tastebuds’ confit memories.
And so to the desserts, homemade sweet things such as hazelnut and caramel tart and Paris-Brest, a typically French pudding made of chow pastry and a praline flavoured cream. I asked what was the least-sweet dessert, and was guided to the lemon tart; however, it was still too sweet and a little gluey for my taste. Yosi had apple crumble with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, which he was very happy with, it tasted fresh and indeed homemade. Post-prandial drinks were a glass of mint tea for him and a decaf coffee with oat milk for me.
In A Nutshell
I’d give Chez Antoinette Victoria top marks for being a fun place where you feel you’re in good company even if you’re dining alone or as a couple. The service was good, the staff accommodating and attentive. We met Jean-Baptiste Noel as we were leaving, and having the co-owner on site is reassuring somehow. As for the food I would have given it four out of five but would deduct half a star because the main course meats could have been better quality. Otherwise, the food was fine and tasted authentically French, and was affordable as best brasseries should be. With two branches in London, they’re still small fish compared to some bigger rivals in the French brasserie game – like Cote, which started 15 years ago and now has almost 100 restaurants nationwide. But what the Antoinettes lack in girth, they make up in frisky, cheeky individuality. Oooh, la la!
HAPPY HOUR at Chez Antoinette is Monday to Friday, 4.30-6.30pm; enjoy any Cocktails at £7 and Mocktails at £5. All served with the same premium alcohol.