The French Tricolore flies proudly over numbers 19 and 21 Monmouth Street, close by Seven Dials on the northern edge of Covent Garden, and on the eastern fringes of London’s West End. Why? Because this is the home of London’s oldest French restaurant. Established back in the 1940s by two French brothers, David and Jean Viala, but acquired in 1972 by Alain Lhermitte, the restaurant has grown in size but continues to serve top quality authentic French cuisine to this day.
With the French flag flying on one side of the road, we should not be surprised to see the Union Flag flying on the other, on a building which is now the Covent Garden Hotel. But Monmouth Street has quite a French feel about it, as that hotel opposite the restaurant was from 1867 to 1948 originally a French hospital, with the words Nouvel Hôpital et Dispensaire Français (New French Hospital and Dispensary) clearly stated in the brickwork.
Over the past twenty years I have eaten at Mon Plaisir, the restaurant in question, and under the Tricolore in Monmouth Street, on many occasions. I was there again a few weeks ago, just before Christmas, and enjoyed that feeling that I always get when I walk down Monmouth Street towards the restaurant, that here is a little bit of France à Londres. Certainly when you go through the front door, you could be in a restaurant anywhere in Paris or Lyon. The four dining rooms in the restaurant all have a different feel about them, there is the 1940s themed front dining room, or the contemporary themed room next door, the brightly decorated back room, or the upstairs room where we ate on this occasion, overlooking the famous bar which was brought to London from a Lyonnais brothel! However, restaurants are not just about rooms and decor, important as they are, as in this case they help to make you feel you are in another country, but it is of course the food that is set before you that is the primary purpose of your visit. In the twenty years that I have been coming here, I have only been disappointed once, and after a letter of complaint, that was more than rectified on the next occasion. The restaurant offers traditional classic French favourites through its A la carte, its Pre-theatre menu, a Lunch Menu, and the Menu du Mois, which as the name suggests, changes every month.
On our recent visit, my friends both started with Gratinée à l’Oignon or Traditional French Onion Soup, while I chose the Thin Grilled Seasonal Vegetable Tart with a Fennel Compote, which was as delicious as it looked, beautifully presented as you can see from the photo.
Our main courses were Roast Breast of Duck for my friends, and Fillet of Turbot for me. Being a French restaurant, the cheeseboard came next, and that is a sight to behold!
After all that there was very little room left for a dessert, but we did manage to share a Café Gourmand between us!
The friendly waiters who will speak to you in English or French, the wonderful food, the ambience, the opportunity to feel “you’re back in France!” all make this one of my favourite restaurants. If ever you are in the Covent Garden area, and feel like a little trip to France, just look for the restaurant under the Tricolore in Monmouth Street; I trust you will not be disappointed!