Always on the hunt for a buttery taste of Paris amid London’s bustle, writer Bobbie Edsor samples the offerings of Chez Antoinette’s new second site in St James’ Park
French dining offers the glimmering promise of grandeur and glamour; intimate spaces and impeccable waiters. You want classic dishes, cooked well, in a gorgeous atmosphere. So it’s safe to say the expectations run pretty high.
Promising just that, Chez Antoinette Victoria is an intimate French restaurant in the borough of busy Westminster. Diners first flocked to Chez Antoinette’s original site in Covent Garden for a tempting taste of Paris in London’s Theatreland. And, with an Instagram following of 15,000, the French bistro has made a firm impression on the West End’s competitive restaurant scene.
Now husband and wife duo Jean-Baptiste and Aurelia have opened their second site in a recently-developed business district neighbouring St James’ Park tube station.
My friend and I arrive at 6:45 on a Tuesday night to the hum of friendly chatter over drinks. Often when arriving at a restaurant at this time, you’ll find the dining room still and quiet with waiting staff pacing, getting ready for the dinner-time rush.
But Chez Antoinette’s new Victoria home makes it perfect for colleagues and client parties to dine straight after work (especially thanks to their impressive happy hour offerings). We arrive and it already feels like the party is mid-swing, making us feel both welcomed and put at ease immediately.
The stylish space is set over two intimate floors: a ground floor with an open kitchen running the length of the restaurant alongside banquette booths and a window counter, and a mezzanine filled with bistro tables, chairs and French oil paintings.
Our waiter guides us up the balcony to our table, across from another pair of diners that immediately start up conversation, asking if we’d been before and making recommendations.
Their friendly introduction might sound out of London’s infamously chilly character – especially for those working in the financial district – but it’s proof of the overall relaxed atmosphere within this family-oriented restaurant.
The restaurant itself is based on family values and traditions passed through generations, with the entire menu comprised of Aurelia’s grandmother, Antoinette’s, own recipes.
The Food & Drink
As we peruse the menu, we sip at our red wine – a intense yet light bottle made in the southern region of Saint-Chinian, recommended by Jean-Baptiste. Our eyes dart from section to section, unable to settle. Not because it’s a complicated menu – there are just five or six dishes per course – but because everything sounds so good.
For those looking for after-work drinks and a light bite, the restaurant offers a range of sharing platters ranging from £3 to £20, including fresh breads, a baked Camembert and a charcuterie board, to which you can add Foie Gras if you so desire.
On the a la carte menu, starters include French classics like grilled leeks, smoked haddock and eggs en meurette – all around the £8 mark. For mains, there’s fish quenelles, coq au vin and bavette steak for around £16, and the iconic croque monsieur for £9.
We order the ham hock terrine and French onion soup to start, followed by lamb shank and the vegetarian option: roast parsnip with carrot purée and a parsley crumble. We are told that the lamb may take up to twenty minutes, but we hardly mind: from the wine alone, we can tell it will be worth it.
The terrine comprises of buttery ham hock mixed with finely ground dark meat and plenty of fresh parsley. It’s beautiful and rich with a game-y depth from the dark meat, complimented by the herb. We lick our lips, coated with a rich sheen from the terrine, as we dive into the soup which is unwaveringly traditional and uncomplicated.
Despite the supposed wait, our main courses arrive shortly after (how long did we spend utterly absorbed by that terrine?). The lamb shank enters propped up on a bed of carrot purée and Tenderstem broccoli, topped with a sumptuously shiny jus.
The shank is absolutely gigantic – like some form of dinnertime entertainment – but the carrot purée is the real star of the show. Velvet-smooth and loaded with butter, this velvety orange carpet compliments the lamb in its simplicity and sweetness.
The French are hardly known for their vegetarian tendencies, and so it’s always a wonder what bistros like this will offer vegetarian guests. Chez Antoinette’s meat-free option is a deeply-roasted parsnip, halved lengthwise, served with more of the heavenly carrot purée and a parsley and oat crumble. Although adding some vibrant colour and much-needed texture to the dish, the crumble is bizarrely sweet. This leaves the dish overall too sweet for our tastes, which feels like a frustratingly small hurdle to fall on.
We finish our Parisian banquet with a slice of plum tart and a Paris-Brest from the patisserie counter downstairs. Both are divine, having been freshly made by the patisserie chefs working tirelessly away in the restaurant’s second kitchen. We are totally stuffed.
The Wordrobe Verdict
This French jewel is perfect for those looking for an elegant dinner spot after a long day in the city. While great for those who work in the vicinity, this may not be the most viable weekend spot. Saturdays and Sundays serve brunch only, with no a la carte lunch or dinner options.
Although I’m unsure whether one parsnip constitutes a main course, this sophisticated and warmly-hit gem is surely worth stumbling over.
With beautifully-cooked French classics that ooze both simplicity and decadence, this restaurant knows exactly what it is – and it does it expertly.
It’s easy to see why Londoners across the capital are stumbling head over heels for Antoinette’s recipes, even two generations later.
Make it happen
Where: 22 Palmer St, Westminster, London SW1H 0PH
How: Please click here or phone 020 3990 5377 to find out more and make a booking.
Words by Bobbie Edsor, writer