|Pleasure in Le Pain|
Liz Vercoe tries Brussels' latest export to Chiswick
Relative newcomer to the High Road, on the former site of Balans, is the 20th London branch of Le Pain Quotidien, or LPQ for short, the brainchild of Brussel’s foodie Alain Coumont. What started as a search for the right crusty loaf for his restaurant has, in 20 years, become a worldwide chain of organic, environmentally friendly café/restaurants stacked, of course, with freshly baked bread and patisseries to eat in or take away.
A centrepiece of each LPQ is a communal table: in Chiswick it seats 14-16. Familiar in gentlemen’s clubs, on safari and among students it is less well understood by personal-distance-measuring middle-aged, middle classes. But it’s a really relaxing place to sit if you are either sociable, eating out with small children (there’s a children’s menu) or on your own and don’t want a table for one.
So how did Chiswick’s branch live up to this philosophy one unexpectedly cold and drizzly summer’s evening? The sort when the High Road empties by 7pm.
When we arrived, the communal table, inviting as it looked with glowing fat white candles and a recipe book “Communal Table Memories” on a stand, was empty and our fellow dinners were seated in pairs at the scrubbed pine tables by the windows. So the two of us followed suit. And the room felt surprisingly cosy despite its plate glass windows. The wood clad walls, while sleek and modern, had a slightly Alpine chalet feel that’s great for bad weather.
The menu – covering breakfast, coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and evening dishes available from 5pm – is supplemented by a card of seasonal specials which look fine for lunch (salads, eggs and a ‘Tartine” open sandwich) but didn’t put up a fight with the dinner selection.
While we chose, we had a dish of decent mixed olives and broke into a bottle of the house red (£18), RN13, the proprietor’s selected blend of organic Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Apart from the fact that the old-fashioned lemonade bottle type stopper made pouring tricky, so was gimmicky rather than useful, the wine was good. In English the label described it as “fresh, pleasant and aromatic”, but in French it read “agreeable et d’une grande richesse aromatique”. I’d go with the French. There’s a list of five reds, five whites (including a Prosecco) and two rosés as well as bottled organic beers and ciders
The schizophrenic nature of a British summer was responded to by a choice of cold gazpacho or hot dried pea and bacon as the soups of the day. Despite the information that the gazpacho had been in demand during the sunny lunchtime, when the tables outside at the front of the restaurant had been particularly popular, we opted for a bowl of the pea soup (£5.50 for a bowl or £3.95 for a cup) and grilled mushrooms and gorgonzola to start (£4.50).
The mushrooms were a sensory revelation. The flavour was spectacular, both of the two large mushroom and the not-overpowering cheese. The soup was less scrumptious, I prefer my bacon saltier as an antidote to the flat split pea flavour in such a soup. But it’s the standard LPQ recipe so no fault of the chef.
With it we sampled a selection of the organic breads , raisin, wholemeal, spelt and the famous crusty Coumont baguette that satisfactorily scrapes the roof of your mouth. They came with olive oil (rather too light in flavour for me but certainly a safe version), balsamic vinegar and dinky pats of waxed paper wrapped organic butter.
Next were a “Pot pie with chicken and organic vegetables” (£11.95) from the “hot Dishes list and “Confit de Canard with organic vegetables and roasted potatoes” (£13.95) from “Evening”.
The pot pie was a dish of small-diced vegetables and diced chicken with a golden flaky pastry lid. Fresh tasting, with a decent texture combination from the pastry and the diced interior, and shouting “healthy”, it didn’t have masses of zing. On every table are impressive salt and pepper grinders and they came into their own. In contrast, the fall-off-the-bone duck surrounded by the same diced veg but with whole leaves of braised fennel adding power seemed more of an indulgence.
Heartbreakingly too full for a raspberry tart, individual pavlova with berries or the day’s special apricot crumble we finished with pots of coffee and a giant crumbly and gooey nougat cookie (£2.20) to share.
With last orders at 9pm, Le Pain Quotidien is not setting out to compete with late-into-the-night dinner venues and the balance of the menu is definitely towards creative casual eating, probably in daylight . But we had a really enjoyable meal in attractive surroundings and still caught the best bits of the Paralympics Games opening ceremony on TV.
With 12.5% service the bill came to £64.
August 31, 2012