I lived not far from the corner of Queensway and Westbourne Grove in West London for a few years. I ate lots of inexpensive Asian food until I moved to East London about two years ago. Of course, since moving there has been some rather exciting restaurant openings in the area: the former head-chef of St John has opened Hereford Road, the former general manager of Aubergine opened Angelus and now, most wall bangingly frustrating of all, the ex-chef of Kensington Place has opened Le Cafe Anglais.
My interest in Le Cafe Anglais was stirred by an excellent article by chef/owner Rowley Leigh in the Week-end Financial Times a few weeks ago. It chartered the development of this place from fuzzy dream, lots of research in France, the search for investors and designing and building the room. A very articulate head-chef's full page pre-opening article in a week-end newspaper sure is a nice way of building some hype for a new restaurant.
Cafe Anglais has only been open for about two weeks. It's still in a "preview period", which means diners get 50% off the food bill while the place deals with teething problems - none of which were apparent to me. Several times over the last two weeks I tried to book dinner. No luck. I even tried my chances as a walk-in last Thursday night. Twice, hoping that I'd not be recognised the second time. Each time I was knocked back, with a sympathetic smile. A crafty Tuesday lunch for one was the only way out of this pickle.
A month or so ago I wrote a glowing piece on La Petite Maison and its black leg chicken - the bird against which all others will now be judged. Hence my prickling curiosity in reading about a new restaurant on my old patch, whose raison d'etre was a huge rotisserie with gently turning chickens and game. Unslaughtered ducks destined for the Four Season's chopping block, which has, until now, ruled the poultry palates of Queensway diners, were clucking merrily with the prospect of life.
Le Cafe Anglais occupies the site of the former McDonald's at Whiteley's Shopping Center. I agree with a description of the room I read elsewhere - "ocean liner deco with a twist." The room comprises about 150 seats, most of which are grey leather lounges, white linen table-cloths, several enormous wall to ceiling windows which peer out at the still leafless trees and roof-tops of Bayswater oblivious to the carnage below Queensway and two enormous rotisseries, glowing like pissed off dragons. The room is not yet finished, but I like it. Most importantly, at 1.00 on a Tuesday afternoon it was buzzing very nicely.
I started with a selection of the hors d'oeuvres at 3 quid a pop: parmesan custard and anchovy toast, salsify fritters and rabbit rillets. These are all quite simple but very impressive. The parmesan custard is salty and gooey and works well with the soldiers of crisp vertically sliced toast pasted with soft anchovies. The salsify fritters are perfect, all crisp on the outside, tender and wonderfully pure tasting on the inside. The rillets are not for everyone, but just the sort of fatty treat to get me salivating on miserable and wet day in London.
Despite the not inconsiderable pull of roasted pheasant, roasted duck and roasted partridge, and spurred on by my Petite Maison experience I had to try the chicken. I ordered half, which is 15 quid. It's very good - juicy, tender, infused with the garlic and lemon thyme - but not a match for the black leg at La Petite Maison. The flavour is not as rich, not as strong and the skin not as dangerously good. I'd have been very pleased with it had I cooked it at home, but it's not the stuff of dreams. The good news is that you don't need to order the whole bird - you can order a breast for 11 quid or a humble leg for about 5 quid.
The wine list comprises mostly French and Italian and is high on quality with reasonable prices. I took the advice of the Economist's wine writer and ordered the 2002 La Pialade Cotes-du-Rhone, the third wine of the esteemed Chateau Rayas from Chateauneuf. If you ask nicely Cafe Anglais will do this by the glass, despite what the list says. This alone is enough reason to drop what you're doing and run to Cafe Anglais right now. It's stunning, ripe, the somehow bastard child of top Burgundy and top Cote Rotie. At 30 quid a bottle it's exceptional value. Not sure how long it will last at that price, though.
My one minor criticism of the place is that it does feel very formal, very restauranty despite using the cafe label. I'd prefer something more low key where you feel you could drop in anytime between 12 noon and midnight for one of the spectacular hors d'oeuvres and a glass of very good wine.
I already like Cafe Anglais a lot and will return very soon for the starters (there are a couple of white truffle dishes which merit some serious attention, including steak tartare with white truffles), the desserts and other mains (each night there is a different special roasted main course such as goose or venison) which this most brief review does not touch upon.
I think Cafe Anglais will be very popular. I only wish it had been around when I was living in the area.