London has the sixth largest population of French expats, so fashion writer and night owl Henry Conway, ever on the lookout for the latest trends, seeks out London’s chicest French hotspots from a good brunch to cashmere and cocktails…
Unless hideously unobservant whilst out and about in Kensington & Chelsea, you will have noticed an increase in (stereotype alert) garlic, baguettes and Breton stripes. London is the sixth biggest French city, with around 400,000 French living and working in the British capital.
Bringing buckets of chic through the Chunnel, our French cousins, like all cultures that make London so international, leave an indelible mark where they settle. We Brits have long held all things French to be the height of elegance – from fashion and style to food – and they’ve penetrated right to the heart of the Establishment with formal dinners at Buckingham Palace still having menus printed in French.
No frogs legs and pastis for this crowd, our French neighbours bring sophisticated international taste. For brunch, the style set will head to Sloane Square’s Cafe Colbert, where over your eggs and croissants, you needn’t leave your pampered tiny French pooch at home, as they are welcomed in the bar area (big brownie points in my books – perfect for our toy poodle, who hates to be left out).
In Pimlico, we have the wonderful Poule au Pot, complete with all the candle-flickering romance you would expect from the kind of Parisian bistro that Marion Cotillard would be at home in. The setting for most of my family celebrations, stalwarts like the onion tart, the foie gras terrine, cassoulet and boeuf bourguignon are reassuringly old-school French, and even Prince William is a fan.
Should you be wishing to impress your French dinner guests, head to French Foodies on Elystan Street, Chelsea Green, which specialises in selling the best of French produce. From rare olive oils, duck terrines, and favourite French brands, there is no need to lug back a suitcase quite so full on your next visit to Provence.
The South Kensington Farmers’ Market, on Bute Street every Saturday, is opposite the Lycees Francais, and is near a symbolic mix of British and French stalls. Though not quite the same experience as mooching through a medieval village in the Tarn on market day, it is close to a Tube stop.
A quick potter around Brompton Cross at a weekend, and with the underplayed clothes combined with slick grooming, and you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into the Marais
On the fashion front, your Chanels and Yves Saint Laurents have been Bond and Sloane Street fixtures for eons, but more low-key Parisian staples have crept into West London. Sandro is a go-to understated Paris stalwart, Comptoir des Cottoniers ticks to the beat of its generation with its relaxed easy styles, and is now on the Kings Road, in Westbourne Grove and South Molton Street.
Our own dear British love of cashmere, as close to the identity of Scotland as single malt and haggis, has a West London rival in the form of French cashmere brand Eric Bompard, who’s King’s Road store has a pride of place just opposite the Sloane Ranger’s mecca Peter Jones. Only a quick potter around Brompton Cross at a weekend, and with the underplayed clothes combined with slick grooming, and you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into the Marais.
I take my French style cues, however, from the boys behind the Experimental Cocktail Company in Chinatown. Blending French hospitality and innovation in cocktails, they have exported their Parisian hotspot genius to London and New York, and Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels, their wine bar in Neal’s Yard, is one of my favourite finds. Exquisite wine, interiors that David Hicks would have been proud of, and beautiful people throughout – yes, the French are here to stay and are very welcome too.