Tom discovers a new West End brasserie which dishes French favourites with bonhomie
Moules mariniere on toast, anyone? The classics get a twist at Maison Francois
Walking into Maison François, a new brasserie on London’s Duke Street, is a rather bittersweet affair. Not that’s there’s anything wrong with this handsome, sumptuous and supremely confident new opening. Far from it. No, my mild melancholy is entirely personal, and almost entirely related to the fact of its sitting on the site of Green’s, my uncle’s late and much-missed oyster bar and restaurant.
Because it was here, among the comfortably upholstered booths, JAK cartoons and wood-panelled walls, that my family (well, my father’s side, anyway) celebrated, commiserated, caroused and boozed. In between bites of hand-carved John Ross smoked salmon, haddock Parker Bowles and countless dozens of Colchester No 2s. Green’s shucked its last oyster over four years back, not because business had dwindled, rather the landlord, The Crown Estate, was keen to refurbish the building. It would take a while. And Uncle Simon decided to move on.
The room could not be more different to Green’s discreetly clubbable charms, being cavernous and high-ceilinged, with tastefully terracotta-daubed walls and open kitchen, complete with modernist metal clock. François O’Neill, the eponymous co-owner, is well versed in the ways of front of house. Nothing escapes his attention. Waiters and waitresses are smartly clad in beige, and service is slick without being smug.
Heavy on the hors d’oeuvres and salads, the menu makes splendid reading – and eating too. Sweet, intensely rich anchovy fillets nestle among clouds of cool lactic ricotta, all sitting atop a charred hunk of bread. A classic leek vinaigrette, the alliums softly seductive, is topped with chopped eggs, and salty, fishy ones too, in the form of grated bottarga.
Plump mussels loll languorously upon blistered, puffy flatbread, slathered in reduced cream sauce. Moules marinière on toast. And then, joy of joys, oeuf en gelée, where hard white and oozing yolk are clad in subtly bovine, glittering amber aspic. Small chunks of poached tongue add their luscious charms. John Dory sits on onion soup, enriched by nuggets of trotter.
Head chef Matthew Ryle uses offal like a whispered sweet nothing, and his cooking is assured, often inspired. Just a month old, and bonhomie already warms these walls. If Green’s was the past, then Maison François is the future. Happy memories, then, with many more to come.
Maison François, about £40 a head, 34 Duke Street, London SW1; maisonfrancois.london
Drinks: Olly’s bonfire dazzlers
Bonfire Night presents an appropriate moment to pour a smoky red. Some grape varieties create wines with aromatic spice that fit the season to perfection. Syrah is the headline act, especially from France’s Northern Rhône. South African Pinotage is another warming red, while Chilean Carménère is more peppery. Off the beaten track, Greece and Portugal have great-value gems – spot-on to light up your life.
Mitravelas Red on Black Agiorgitiko 2019 (14%), £7.95, The Wine Society. This Greek is like a butch Beaujolais with spicy whiskers. Silky and sublime!
M&S Classics Carmenere 2019 (13.5%), £8. A Chilean champion of a wine containing peppery scented bold ripe fruit. Great value.
Kanonkop Kadette Cape Blend 2018 (14.5%), £11, Tesco. This spicy rich red blend is seamless and spectacular. From one of South Africa’s best producers.
Domaine Jean-Claude Marsanne Saint-Joseph 2017 (14%), £29.55, hhandc.co.uk. A vibrant and vital Syrah. I’ve placed my order! A world class wine.
Wine of the week: Carlos Lucas Portuguese Dao 2018 (13%), £5.99, Aldi. Think Rioja meets Pinot Noir with an aromatic flourish. Stunning.