Peter Morrell returns to this charming restaurant after more than six years and finds that it still has the magic culinary touch
Le Café du Marché is a restaurant which is seared into my foodie memory after my first visit more than six years ago. Since then I have recommended it countless time. I went back recently for lunch with a friend and approaching the meal with some trepidation, would it be as good as last time or would my memories be spoilt? I need not have worried, it was its usual outstanding self.
Le Café du Marché is located near Smithfield meat market in one of London’s most historic areas. The restaurant is hidden down a quaint little cobbled alley right next to Charterhouse Square. It’s been at this location for more than 30 years in a building that has been stables, a corset factory and a warehouse. Now the décor is a mixture of warm red exposed brick walls and artefacts from France which give it the atmosphere of a solid bourgeois establishment in a French provincial city, it’s utterly charming.
We were soon settled in nibbling on fresh French bread and butter while we looked at the menu. The London eating scene is now teeming with all sorts of different food styles and trends but the dishes on offer were reassuringly familiar. The starters had favourites like pate de campagne with pistachio, apple and quince chutney with sourdough toast and vegetarienne tartiflette of new potato, wild mushrooms, shallots, reblochon, after a lot of mind changing my friend had calamari and I chose the fish soup.
The calamari had been sautéed in chilli and was sat on a fennel salad with blood orange and avocado. It looked very appetising and my friend declared it delicious, he particularly liked the tenderness of the squid and the contrasting textures of the other ingredients. My soupe de poisson was in classic style, thick with tasty fish and vegetables it had great depth and warmth. A hint of aniseed from a splash of pastis finished the soup off and it came with the traditional accompaniments of rouille, thin slices of toasted baguette and grated gruyere cheese.
It was time for the mains, Café du Marché’s signature dish is cote de boeuf served with a sauce béarnaise, frites and salad. This is for two people and was tempting as were a number of other mains. like salt beef with choucroute, horseradish and crème fraiche and smoked haddock with poached egg and grain mustard sauce. There is always a plat du jour and a merket fish special on the menu. The fish was sea bass and dish of the day was duck breast, which my dining companion chose immediately, with my friend’s dish decided I had the pork escalope florentine.
The duck was served with red cabbage and a sauce, I tasted a piece and it had an intense flavour and worked well with the cabbage. My pork was coated in breadcrumbs and was meltingly tender, it sat on a bed of wilted spinach and was topped with an egg and was very comforting. All mains are served with a large bowl of French fries and these were moreishly crunchy with a floury interior.
The wine list is almost exclusively French with some good examples from the many wine growing regions of France. We decided to drink the house white, the Tour des Pins Terre de Garrigue from the Pas D’Oc. This blend of chardonnay and vermentino had delicate apple and citrus aromas in the bouquet. On the palate it was light and fruity with lively acidity and the finish was bright and fresh. It was a good pairing with the food.
We had left space for some pudding, my friend had the blackberry and apple crumble and I had almost decided on the chocolate mousse in a chocolate tulip cup when I heard that the dessert du jour was Bailey’s cheesecake, my favourite. Both were extremely satisfying, the crumble, served with calvados ice cream was hearty while my cheesecake was deliciously decadent, A fitting end to a good meal.
It had been good to re-acquaint myself with Le Café du Marché, the dining space, which was packed, is atmospheric, the service very friendly and the food of an exceptionally high standard. It’s also very good value for money, expect to pay £50 – £60 per head for food, drinks and service. I would recommend that you book, although this is a hidden gem it’s a magnet for locals and regulars.
Le Café du Marché
22 Charterhouse Square,
London EC1M 6DX
020 7608 1609