Smithfield is one of my favourite gastro hotspots in London. I just know that whenever I visit that there are a whole plethora of cuisines ripe and ready to tickle my taste buds. There is always so much going on there and I am making it my culinary mission to sample every restaurant around. Many a restaurant come and go these days, however Le Café du Marché remains unchanged in the heart of Smithfield, tucked away on a cobbled street.
As a regular Francophile, it upset me slightly that I had never been to this traditional French restaurant before, but I am pleased that I have now righted this wrong after a superb dining experience. The interior whispers classic French style, it is not pretentious and it is not cold. My guest and I were met by our waitress and led through the bare brick walls and wooden beamed ceilings to our table. The walls are aligned with various fruits who are in peaceful slumber in their kilner jars.
It exudes comfort. You feel like you are a guest in a classic French home. Which is my vibe exactly – it is enjoyable to have an anti-zeitgeist evening as opposed to sitting in an uber-modern restaurant that London has become quite full of. The menu changes every 5 weeks as they want to serve the best seasonal food – so everything you are getting is fresh and à la mode.
The menu is classic and not overwhelming – this again pleases me, as if the menu is too large, I spend 3-4 days choosing between various dishes and then end up making a panic order due to hungry (thus irritable) friends. To start, my guest and I sat down and while we perused the menu we tucked into the most delicious baguette and smothered it with salted butter.
There is nothing better than fresh French bread and a bottle of red – so we chose the Marques de Zearra Rioja. With coffee and chocolate aromas, this definitely got rid of our February chill.
For my starter, I opted for the onion tarte. The pastry was thin enough to maintain crunch yet thick enough to not crumble under the gorgeous rich, almost buttery onion filling. My friend chose the soupe du jour – on this occasion, lentil and chickpea. It was simple and classic – the comfort you need after a long day at work.
For mains, I selected le poisson de marché – fish of the day, or fish from the market to be precise. I was very intrigued to see what the fish of the day was and was even more excited when I found out it was swordfish. It’s one of my favourites, however it is not often on the menu. The beautiful tender steak came served on a bed of pea purée with a dousing of tomato and capers. This was so fresh and free of fuss. I would be happy trying whatever fish of the day they serve.
My guest is a vegetarian, which doesn’t usually cause us any issues. However, just to be a little more complicated, he doesn’t like mushrooms – so the veggie main was out. The restaurant was great about this, so instead they amended the risotto for him. The risotto is usually a starter of butternut squash, parmesan and smoked chicken. They removed the chicken and served it to my friend in main size.
He was totally over the moon with this. It was rich, creamy and fragrant. I was equally happy with this as I helped him finish it off. It’s a plus really eating out with vegetarians – he wasn’t allowed to touch my swordfish. A win for me. We also enjoyed sides of creamed spinach, new potatoes and buttered carrots (everything is better with butter) which all complemented our dinners seamlessly and we tucked in and ate every last morsel.
Of course my friend and I were full at this point, but I find it impossible to visit a French restaurant and not have dessert. It just seems wrong to walk away. After a little wine break, we dove in.
My guest opted for the crème brûlée. I do not say this lightly, and I do not mean to cause any offence to my mother as the reigning Brûlée Queen, but this is without a doubt the best either one of us had ever had.
There is that gleeful moment where the sugar shell cracks and then you plunge spoon first into the creamiest, smoothest of fillings. It almost tasted like white chocolate and vanilla – this is one that has to be tried. There will be no regrets here.
I couldn’t help but order the profiteroles with pistachio cream. These were utterly delectable, they were sweet but also bitter due to the dark chocolate and the almost marzipan twang from the pistachio.
Everything about our evening was stellar. Our glasses were never empty and we munched down on everything in sight. The restaurant was so warm and it was lovely to relax with a close friend and listen to the chilled out live jazz duo throughout our meal.
My friend and I felt like we had drifted out of London and had woken in the backstreets of some provincial French town. In the centre of London, that is no mean feat.
Le Café du Marché
22 Charterhouse Square,Charterhouse Mews,London, EC1M 6DX