*Currently closed for refurbishment
Due to reopen February 2019*
In London, it’s easy to get distracted by the constant stream of new kooky concept restaurants that open weekly. But sometimes it pays to go back to the classics, as Jemima Boost found on a visit to Cheyne Walk Brasserie
If you live in or near Chelsea, chances are you’ve heard of Cheyne Walk Brasserie, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’ll have walked passed it on a stroll down the Embankment. Despite being hidden by the well-groomed miniature parks that line the street, its pastel exterior pops through the greenery, standing out among the red-brick mansions.
While its interiors might stand out, its menu is of the classic French variety that has been kicked to the kerb of late, getting less air time than London’s shinier, newer and quirkier concept restaurants, which source ingredients from strange places and serve them in a jam jar. But as a result of Cheyne Walk Brasserie’s loyalty to France and its crowd-pleasing classics, the restaurant has become a Chelsea stalwart, frequented regularly by the many chic tribes that live in the area – not forgotten by its true fans.
When we visited for Sunday lunch we found the place about half full, although it quickly filled up. Dotted around the bright blue banquette seats under glittering chandeliers were smart European families with children dressed in Bon Point behaving impeccably; American tourists with teenagers in polo shirts; a glamorous old couple exuding old-world style, and young mums nattering – Bugaboos and husbands in tow.
The breadth this clientele spans represents the wide appeal of Cheyne Walk Brasserie. It’s very Gallic menu may list snails, frogs legs and tartare, but there is also a more accessible children’s menu and brasserie staples that come out of the grill.
Knowing we were going to get stuck into the meat for our main course, my husband and I both chose largely vegetarian dishes to start – well, as vegetarian as the French go anyway. I opted for wild mushrooms in puff pastry with white wine and cream sauce – a giant vol au vent-style tower over-flowing with a very rich and filling sauce, a cardiologist’s nightmare. My husband chose the grilled asparagus with Bayonne ham, Parmesan, rocket and truffle oil. The plate should have packed a serious punch in the flavour stakes but it was a bit disappointing, asparagus not quite being in season meant it was overshadowed by the Parmesan and truffle oil.
Main courses were more impressive, and the nice leisurely pace of service meant that by the time my Aberdeen Angus grilled rib eye arrived, the giant vol au vent was digested and I was ready for round two. The meat was perfect, pale pink in the middle, with a nice charcoal-infused smokiness to it on the outside. My husband’s Colne Valley rack of lamb was mopped up with equal enthusiasm, the meat soft and full of flavour and he pronounced it a success through hurried mouthfuls.
Neither of the hefty dishes left much room for dessert so we shared a chocolate fondant with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, described by the French waiter as the best dessert ever – a big claim coming from a man whose country pretty much invented the course. But it wasn’t a total exaggeration, although in my eyes – despite the disasters witnessed on Masterchef – you can’t go far wrong with a plate of steaming hot chocolate spilling out of chocolate cake and swimming in creamy melted ice cream. Suffice to say the plate was empty in about two seconds flat.
After a slightly ropey start our meal at Cheyne Walk Brasserie just got better and better, and, as I wiped the chocolate from my mouth, I could see how the restaurant perfectly serves the needs of its diverse local community, one that isn’t easy to please either. Portions are generous, the staff are excellent – friendly and well-informed – and the food tasty. Although, being in Chelsea, it comes with matching price tags and our two-and-a-half course lunch, with a glass of wine came to over £40 a head.