Ah, Knightsbridge. Harrods, Jimmy Choos clacking down the pavement, gold-plated Ferraris desecrating the speed limit…
But there is another side to SW’s summer resort for Middle Eastern playboys and Russian oligarchs. Tailor off the main streets you’ll find those blink-and-you-miss-it mews, cul-de-sacs and greens that have more of a Parisian village feel than a vulgar vibe.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of the more recent additions to Knightsbridge’s secret world of side streets is a newish branch (open since July) of the quintessential Parisian restaurant, Les Gourmets des Ternes.
It’s on Knightsbridge Green, in the company of, among other things, a hat boutique, a small opticians and an old-fashioned tavern.
The first Les Gourmets des Ternes opened its doors in Paris’ eighth arrondissement in 1962. And over the years it’s become a magnet for celebrities, think Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone among others.
Although the brand is expanding to London, this is still a French, family affair. The new London branch is run by Maximilien Marie, the grandson of Les Gourmets des Ternes’ founder Francis Marie, who also runs the Maida Vale branch on Formosa St.
It would be a shame to visit the Knightsbridge restaurant without first enjoying a cocktail in the upstairs bar or on the small rooftop lounge, weather permitting. It was a chilly night so I stuck with indoors. The decor is fabulously kooky: scratchy brown leather seats, a foosball table and oil paintings of stiff collared earls.
It gives the place the feel of a gentleman’s club for the young at heart. The cocktail list is small but sensational. The Rendez-vous Spritz, although pricey at £14, is one of the best drinks I’ve had in the capital for months. A sparky mixture of Champagne, Saint Germain elderflower liqueur, mint, cucumber and Absinth, it was more than refreshing, it was revivifying, and the Absinthe was like a clap of thunder in a cooling but exhilarating storm.
So far so good. Then it was the descent into the restaurant on the ground floor. It’s a heavy contrast with the bar with its rebelliously playful decor. Instead, it is classically French, down to the net curtains, white table cloths, wooden chairs and wine and burgundy colour scheme. A nice touch are the table covers printed with written messages from the Paris’ restaurants most famous guests including Uma Thurman and Carla Bruni.
I kicked off my meal with the foie gras served with grilled bread. It was velvety and sweet without being too cloying, and served with a pickled relish that brought some acidity to the dish. For my main I had one of the signature dishes, the scallops Provençale. I was a little dismayed when I saw the presentation of this dish. I was expecting a gleaming creamy sauce and expertly cut little shards of tomato and parsley scattered with precision, like glittering confetti.
Instead the sauce was a sickly peach. The tomatoes were unevenly chopped and the parsley was confined to one side of the plate, as though it had been chucked on as an afterthought. Perhaps this rustique approach is acceptable in Paris, but in Knightsbridge when you are paying £29 for a plate of scallops and it doesn’t include sides I would have expected better attention to detail. It was quite a relief when it tasted much better than it looked. The sauce was rich and fragrant, the tomatoes were sweet and the scallops were nice and juicy, if smaller than I had hoped.
The crème caramel is a delight here. Too often, I order crème caramel in this city only to be presented with something more like curdled milk. This was soft and silky, topped with gorgeous, deep caramel sauce. And not even a hint of burnt.
I went to Les Gourmets with a friend but I couldn’t help think, both in the bar and in the restaurant, that it would be wonderful for a date. Ask for one of the cosy corner tables. And put the phone camera away. You definitely won’t find any Insta-worthy plates here (although the cocktails look pretty sexy).
But it should all please your tastebuds all the same. And in the end I suppose that’s what counts.
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Hungry? Try some hybrid cuisine or go hipster at Hoi Polloi. In other big news: brunch, Blacklock and breakfast radishes