La Poule au Pot

What They Say

La Poule au Pot has been a Belgravia institution for as long as anyone cares to remember. The alluring interior, with its intimate nooks and festoons of dried flowers and bric-à-brac has changed little since the 60s and offers an authentic re-creation of “paysan” France. It is no surprise that La Poule has been voted “best for romance” in the whole of London in Hardens guide for the nth year in succession.

Alongside the wonderfully atmospheric ambience, the menu is classic French too: excellent ingredients, generous portions and fine cooking, presented with exuberant panache. The wine list is honest, thoughtful and interesting.

In warmer months, the extensive outdoor seating area makes the restaurant one of the most desirable alfresco destinations in the capital.

The Style

Unapologetically French and old fashioned, in the very best way (my notes say ‘doesn’t need a but’). On a bleak Monday night, we step back in time as we enter the flickering candle-lit room, which instantly alleviates the depressing November gloom. The place is heaving, every table occupied, every waiter more so, juggling orders in heavy, quite possibly ersatz, accents. No matter, it works.

There’s an immediate sense of comfort as we take in wicker baskets, dried Provencal lavender and wrought iron curlicues across open brickwork, a Proustian nostalgia for childhood summer holidays in the South of France on my part; although my husband Andy, whose childhood holidays were spent mainly in northern Europe, feels it too – so the restaurant’s appeal is clearly more universal than subjective. Rustic wooden furniture, silver candlesticks and old lace curtains with tie-backs amp up the romance factor.

There’s a terrace outside that I remember always looking very jolly in my youth. I went to school just around the corner and sixth form summer lunch breaks were often spent on Pimlico Green gawping, giggling, at Sloaney punters ploughing through endless ice-buckets of Chablis at white linen-clad tables under parasols. I have no doubt I’d enjoy summer here enormously as an adult.

The Crowd

La Poule, as it’s known in these parts, is very popular with locals, well-heeled Chelsea and Belgravia seniors out in force the night we visit. There’s a father congratulating his daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law on their engagement, a raucous group celebrating a significant birthday, several middle-aged couples. Tables are packed pretty tightly so it’s a fun place to people-watch (I don’t seem to have evolved terribly far from that giggling sixth form gawper). On the other hand, there are lots of partially hidden nooks and crannies that one imagines would be handy for illicit liaisons.

As far as I can see, nobody is Instagramming their food, for which hurrah.

The Food

Genuinely, reliably good. I wouldn’t come here if you’re expecting miso, yuzu or jackfruit, but for classic French cooking, you can’t go far wrong.

We start, correctly, with decent bread and butter. Then, for me, terrine de foie gras with Sauternes jelly, from the Specials menu (all written in comforting Franglais – £20) and – with apologies to geese everywhere – it is utterly delicious: rich and silky, and with the trembly-wobbly sweet wine gel seriously moreish. I realise that it’s difficult to defend such a foodstuff (in fact it really is indefensible) but what can I say, I have the morals of an alley cat.

Moving swiftly on, Andy’s rather less problematic starter is rillette de saumon from the Table d’Hote (£36 for 3 courses). He loves it – two triangles of good, well-seasoned, coarse-cut salmon served with toast and a lemon quarter. He follows it with suitably seasonal roast pheasant, two legs and a breast, with celeriac mash, pommes dauphinoise, carrots and beans. Again, he’s very happy with his choice – especially the ‘very punchy’ sauce, a syrupy reduction of pheasant stock and wine.

I pinch some of his irresistibly creamy potatoes to go with my (again rather extravagant, from the Specials menu) Dover sole on the bone, fried in butter with lemon and parsley (La sole de Douvres meunière – £38). The reason for our making those choices, I’ve just remembered, was to demonstrate that you can have a reasonably priced (still very good) meal here by going for the Table d’hote, but there’s always the option to go all out and indulge your inner spoilt glutton. Guess who drew the long straw?

Anyway, I digress. The fish, you’ve probably guessed, was excellent, its flesh delicate and sweet in flavour, firm and meaty in texture, lifting easily from the bone. With fish this good you really don’t need anything more than butter, lemon and parsley. Just yum.

Andy detects the only dud note in his Crème brûlée, which has been brûléed earlier, but forgives it as it’s mouth-watering despite the fridge-coldness. Or maybe we’re just enjoying ourselves too much. My mousse au chocolat ditto, simple and unadorned, but lovely, airy and light – definitely not the dense 100% cocoa concoctions of more recent years.

The Drink

French and expensive, but when you’re feeling cossetting warmth creep up on you to such a degree, you might (as we did) think nothing of ordering more than you’d intended. Ah well. What’s life without some joyous extravagances?

LA POULE AU POT, 231 Ebury Street, London SW1W 8UT

020 7730 7763

Open all day, every day.

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