Let’s face it, it’s all too easy to be seduced by the wonders that France offers – the food, the wine, the language, the architecture and (maybe best of all) the glorious countryside. And, unsurprisingly given its worldwide appeal, it’s possible to dip your pieds into fine French culture in almost any major city you find yourself in the world; especially London, where an estimated 400,000 French ex-pats are believed to have made their home. This represents a population between the fourth and fifth biggest cities in France, by the way!
So, should you be a Francophile irréfutable and you’re also planning on visiting the UK capital soon, what French fancies should you look out for while you’re here? Well, you may want to make some time for these particular attractions…
(30 Charlotte Street W1T 2NG)
If you love Parisian bistros, then this utterly charismatic restaurant’s the place for you, conjuring up that irresistible style and atmos of the French capital’s Fin de Siècle era. However, despite the pitch-perfect décor and menu (featuring excellent classic French dishes), you can – should you be in the mood – order more contemporary cuisine too. With the dining out experience here tending to total around £30 per head, it’s a fine venue for a celebration – say, pre-theatre or for a birthday – with maybe it’s unique selling proposition being the très friendly staff, whom are only too happy to chat at length if you enquire about the restaurant’s history or its many regular thespian patrons, photos of whom litter the walls.
Nearest Tube station: Goodge Street
French Book Shop
(28 Bute Street SW7 3EX)
If you’re a bibliophile, then it’s likely you’ll love nothing more than the welcoming, quiet, relaxing atmosphere of a bookshop, with its inviting smell of print, patient and friendly staff and reams and reams of books, of course. And this one’s a standout because, its name being a huge giveaway here, it specialises in filling its shelves with French-language and French-focused paperbacks, hardbacks, publications, volumes and tomes. Even better, it’s also fittingly located in the ‘quartier français de Londres’ that’s South Kensington. So really, of all the London French attractions, what more could you ask for?
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington
(38 Earlham Street WC2H 9LH)
London’s fit to bursting when it comes to boutiques, as you may have assumed, but this little gem in trendy Seven Dials (on the eastern edge of the West End) really stands out thanks to its commitment to all things French. Packed full of Parisian fashion designs and brands, it’s also stocked to the rafters with beauty products, deli delights and art and homeware bits and bobs. It’s also very easy to reach if you’re staying in and around the Islington/ City/ Barbican area, specifically at somewhere like the Montcalm London City at the Brewery hotel.
Nearest Tube station: Covent Garden
Le Peche Mignon
(6 Ronalds Road N5 1XH)
Admittedly, not that easy to find owing to it being hidden away off Islington’s bustling Holloway Road (but entirely worth it), this fine independent French café-cum-deli is the ideal stop for a morning coffee and croissant, a Sunday midday brunch (especially in its outdoor courtyard) or for grabbing a lunchtime baguette. You may also find it impossible to turn down one of its many deli offerings; offering, as it does, everything from cheeses to patés, wines to yoghurts, cured meats to sausage rolls and, of course, more fresh salads than you can shake a French stick at.
Nearest Tube stations: Holloway Road and Highbury & Islington
Aux Merveilleux de Fred
(88 Old Brompton Road SW7 3LQ)
‘Merveilleux’ translates into English as ‘wonderful’, which pretty much sums up the consistently delicious concoctions served up at this Kensington patisserie extraordinaire. It primarily focuses on two treats for sweet-tooths, Cramiques soft brioche buns and its Merveilleux meringue creations – both of which you can be assured are baked entirely on-site. And don’t be deceived by their size; they may be small but their taste (whatever flavour you choose) is hors de ce monde!
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington
(30 Highbury Park N5 2AA)
Another North London location, this Highbury highlight offers some of the finest cheeses you’ll find outside France itself. The front room’s shop features a host of cheese varieties on sale alongside the usual fresh baguettes, pastries and jars of spreads and delicacies (as well as a tasteful café), but the real delights are to be found in the back – a sealed, refrigerated room where its vault-like cheese store’s to be found. Moreover, the staff aren’t just knowledgeable; they’re likely, should you ask, to offer a sample for tasting before you buy. Surely you can’t say fairer than that. Pretty much parfait then.
Nearest Tube stations: Arsenal and Highbury & Islington