Sometimes, you want a white-tableclothed, fine dining experience in Mayfair. Sometimes you want a lively dinner filled with friends, fizz, and foot-tapping tunes. And then sometimes you want to cosy up in a tiny restaurant with a chequered tablecloth and eat something French.
Luckily, London is full of bistro-style restaurants that satisfy this latter urge nicely. So, here’s our selection of small, cosy spots with French(ish) food and easy-going atmospheres. Bon appétit.
There isn’t a chequered tablecloth in sight at Socca – but then again, what would you expect from a bistro by Claude Bosi? It does, however, have snug blue booths and neatly framed pictures that feel straight out of the French Riviera – which isn’t surprising given the menu’s inclination towards Cannes, Marseilles, and Nice. Eat the beef cheeks, drink French rosé, and pretend it’s summer – even on a grey day in February.
41A S Audley St, W1K 2PS
We’re suckers for a hand-written menu. Especially when it involves snail flatbreads and plate-sized pies. And that’s what you get at Bistro Freddie – the first bistro from the team that brought us Bar Crispin. It’s small and snug, with white tablecloths, rickety chairs, and drippy candles crowning each table. The menu is similarly concise and changes regularly, but there’s always a butter-smothered flatbread worth trying – and a great selection of French wines.
74 Luke St, EC2A 4PY
Ok, so Nest isn’t really a bistro, but it is one of the cosiest restaurants we’ve dined in for a while. You’ll also love it if you’ve got a thing for small plates, candlelit tables, and wooden shelves lined with wines and pickling jars. It’s tasting menu-only, with the chefs focusing on one seasonal theme and running with it for a full six courses (it’ll be seafood until mid-Feb). If you’re a foodie, sit at the counter to watch the chefs in action; if you’re here for the vibes, curl up in a corner with a glass of Austrian red.
374–378 Old St, EC1V 9LT
If you’re suddenly hit with a craving for bouillabaisse and steak frites, satiate it at Paulette. This unassuming French restaurant is on a quiet street in residential Maida Vale but feels deliciously authentic – from the Provence-accented owner to the wall of French wines. It’s a favourite amongst locals for a Friday night glass of vin but stay for dinner if you can – the goat’s cheese gnocchi is excellent.
18 Formosa St, W9 1EE
Henry Harris’s Racine was one of the Knightsbridge restaurants in the noughties – and last year, it was reborn as Bouchon Rachine, a lovely little restaurant holding court above a 300-year-old pub in Farringdon. Of course, Racine favourites are on the menu (e.g., bacon-wrapped rabbit) alongside newer, flashier additions (see the softly poached tête de veau, ‘head of veal’, as evidence).
Upstairs, 66 Cowcross St, EC1M 6BP
La Poule au Pot
It’s hard to describe La Poule au Pot without using the word rustic. That’s just what happens when you hang baskets from the ceiling and have more tables that are rickety than not. Still, this is one of London’s longest-standing bistros, having been open since the ‘60s, with a menu that’s as Gallic as they come. This is food to comfort the soul – whether that’s a sticky beef bourguignon or a hearty coq au vin.
231 Ebury St, SW1W 8UT
One of the newest entries to London’s bistro scene, Bistro Bleu feels like it’s been plucked out of Paris and plonked above the Rugby Tavern in Bloomsbury. True to its name, it does have blue walls, but it also has a tinkling jazz soundtrack, Art Deco interiors, and a selection of hearty Gallic dishes covering everything from rabbit to ribeye.
19 Great James St, WC1N 3ES
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