When I visited: July 2017, May 2018
Location: London, Surbiton
Rating in the Michelin Guide: Recommended
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress
Ambience: Intimate, fairly formal
Course of the meal: Tuna Niçoise Tartelette
If I could change one thing: Less gapping in service
The French Table, at only 15 years old, has acquired a strong reputation for providing high-quality French food in an intimate and relaxed atmosphere. This is supported by the fact that it is quite difficult to get a table there.
July 2017 visit:
We had a first impression of slight confusion as we came into the restaurant through its narrow entrance corridor and there was nobody there – the desk where the staff sort out bookings, phone calls etc is actually quite a way into the restaurant and there was nobody near us when we first came in so it was unclear whether we should go upstairs (where there are more tables) or straight through. Someone arrived within a minute or two and guided us to a table downstairs.
We started off with a glass of house Champagne each (there was an interesting-looking mini card list of cocktails that I would like to sample in the future). For a drink to accompany the meal, we selected a Rully Villages bottle of white wine, which had a strong flowery aftertaste. The wine list in general had a lot of reasonably-priced ‘good’ wines (around £30), which is fairly unusual for a French restaurant in the Michelin Guide. We did have to wait quite a long time for the water we requested at the start, though.
We were offered bread from a good selection – warm sesame seed pieces, olive and chorizo. For the food, we considered whether to go for the Chef’s Table tasting menu but on this occasion decided to go for the a la carte choices as there were some things on there that were difficult to pass over. Another slight mistake from a service point of view was that we didn’t get to hear about the special starter until we were ready to order – but it sounded so good that I did change my choice so that I could try it. It was a crab ceviche with passion fruit and dots of delicious sauce. My partner Owl’s poached duck egg with truffle thankfully bucked the recent unwelcome trend of truffles not tasting like much and was full of flavour.
We had to wait again for a fairly long time before getting our mains, but they were worth the wait. My dining companion had the Wagyu beef with pea purée, thin potato crips and a thick gravy sauce with a side of carrots (which didn’t appear until we asked where it was). We also shared a side of broccoli fried in chickpea flour, which I would highly recommend for a slightly ‘different’ take on a vegetable side. My tuna Niçoise tartelette was gorgeous – there wasn’t too much pastry and instead the focus was on the cornucopia of flavours on the plate – the succulent tuna steak, green beans, salad leaves, olives, mini Scotch eggs and capers.
Our desserts were another high point (although again we had to wait quite a long time for them) – the Poire Hélène (poached pear, thinly sliced, with almonds, pear purée, whipped cream and chocolate mousse and sponge) and the Black Forest gateau with bitter cherry pieces, chocolate presented in different textures and a large raspberry quenelle. We went on to share green tea and petits fours (three truffles on a bed of cocoa nibs – pistachio, coffee and matcha tea flavours). These were good but didn’t reach the heights of a classic petits fours slab of mini madeleines, mini macarons, jellies and classic chocolate truffles.
My overall impression of this restaurant was that I had no real complaints about the food, which was really excellent in places and approaching 1-star territory. However, the service had so many gaps in it that it made the whole experience less sparkly. When we did chat to the serving staff they were very friendly and helpful – I think the issue is that the restaurant is currently slightly under-staffed, and they are advertising for more staff so hopefully this will be rectified soon. In any case, I would definitely go back to try more of the dishes and drinks.
May 2018 visit:
We shared a carafe of white Italian Malvasia wine, which was very light and fresh, and some fresh mint tea. While waiting for our starters we got a good selection of bread (olive, tomato, multigrain and cheese) which was (typically for a French restaurant) pretty salty and delicious.
For starters, we went for the sesame seed millefeuille with white asparagus and blood orange, the special of scallops and tomatoes, and the seared tuna with coriander and coconut foam. All were beautifully presented and nicely balanced. For mains, we had a vegetable farandole, wild boar, Lake District lamb with mash, spinach and peas, and monkfish with mussels and chorizo. I don’t believe there was any main course dip here as everyone really enjoyed their mains.
Desserts were the summery lime and mango delice with coriander meringue, and vanilla parfait with shortbread and rhubarb ice cream.
I thought that the speed of service was much improved from the July 2017 visit, while the food and drink were just as good, so I would definitely return for another meal.