Everyone has their own institutions. You may have a caf you’ve been going to since school lunch breaks. Only these days you can’t smoke inside and you actually like coffee. Or it might be your university local. Where pints were dropped and tears were sobbed. Maybe it’s just the shop down the road for you. You know, the one with the 50p Ribena cartons. The point is that most institutions are personal ones. Only, The French House in Soho is a public one.
The French House has been around for donkey’s years. In that people probably used to arrive here on an ass with the sole intention of getting rat-arsed. Bits and bobs have changed about this pub since 1891, not least its name, but much of the experience here is steeped in tradition, from its serving of half-pints, to its no screens rule, to the rib-eye and Paris-Brest served upstairs. It has, like good institutions tend to do, kept things simple and similar.
You enter the bar area of The French thirsty. There’s no other way to do it. Do you think Charles de Gaulle came here for a J20 and a little wartime breather? Non non non. This is an old school bar that’s made for consumption and conversation. All the best things in life tend to start with a proper drink and a chat downstairs, before something more juicy and intimate somewhere else, and The French is no different. You’ll move from the wooden, picture-frame filled bar area, upstairs to the red-walled and moodily-lit dining room. It’s a room that’s generally filled with people who know. They know about the history. They know they’re embarking on a three hour lunch or dinner. They know to share the excellent pork rillettes. They know how to enjoy themselves.
So much of The French House is built around tradition - that this is how beer should be drunk and conversations should be had - and the food lends itself to this. The ten-item menu is a daily changing but classic one, where you can go from oysters, onto a lamb chop, to a cream-filled and chocolate covered pastry dessert. Everything here tastes good but feels consciously paired back. The moreish beignets or the not-quite-cheesy-enough aligot aren’t meant to compete with the main attraction of the place itself or the company you’re in. They’re happy additions done right. This isn’t a bad thing but, rather, a heads up. If you’re looking for a show, a restaurant where the staff will introduce the English asparagus like a royal birth, then this is not the place.
You should come to The French House with those who appreciate the simple things in life. You know, bread and butter people. I’ll have a glass of whatever they recommend people. Not because The French House is basic or over simplistic, but because it’s an institution. It doesn’t need to dazzle or reinvent. It just needs to do the simple things well. Which is exactly what it does.
The menu at The French House changes daily, but, by and large, it always has two or three meat and fish mains on, a couple of vegetable and salad dishes, and some things involving toast.
Although this is priced a little bit dearly (£7 for 3) we forgive them because they’re pretty good.
Rillettes - which is basically slow cooked shredded meat paste - sounds so much better in French, doesn’t it? This one tastes as good as it sounds.
We’re all for in-season greens and we’re all for butter. Needless to say then this is a straightforward winner. Alternatively with béarnaise sauce. .
In general, this place isn’t the most vegetarian friendly (if you’re vegan, consign yourself to a liquid lunch or dinner instead). But the salad artichoke, chicory, and tête de moine salad we had is bitter, cheesy, and tasty.
Although this cheesy mash wasn’t cheesy enough for our liking, it’s another fine example of the French turning something that sounds school dinners in English into a word you might shout from a balcony at someone you’ve never met but are sure you love.
There are always a couple of meat dishes on. Previously we’ve had a good rib-eye and also a lamb chop with chard, as well as this lamb navarin with mint sauce.
You’ll want the the Paris-Brest and chocolate sauce to be on the menu, but this chocolate, whisky, and coffee mousse a fine substitute.