db seeks a certain je ne sais quoi in stylish French European restaurant Margaux, indulging in foie gras, beef bourguignon and some delectable wines.
Modern European restaurant and bar Margaux channels the continent’s romantic heartland with an exquisite menu of French contemporary classics. Expect style and finesse in abundance, but with a hearty dollop of authenticity and big flavour.
With a dark interior, elegant minimalist design and quiet atmosphere, lacking in romantic candlelight, vintage décor and Edith Piaf songs, the decidedly un-French themed Margaux looks more like a cool New York loft restaurant than a quaint French brasserie.
Situated in the middle of South Kensington’s glamorous Old Brompton Street, the restaurant has quickly become a popular neighbourhood hang-out among serious foodies, particularly since head chef Xavier Castella Vilmajo boasts both Zuma and two-michelin star El Bulli on his CV. Designed by the team behind Dabbous, Margaux’s interior features a long copper bar, mismatched, low-hanging light fixtures, exposed brick work and simple metal and wood furniture.
Swordfish with tomato petal confit, leek and lemon vinaigrette
It is into this cavernous shelter that I stumble into on a rainy Tuesday in May. Dining with a friend, we of course begin with a couple of cocktails. I opt for the recommended Belle Epoch, a light and feminine mix of Hendrick’s gin, elderflower, strawberry, basil and lime that cleansed my palate for the rich dishes which were to ensue. My guest meanwhile sipped on La Bicyclette, an equally refreshing and easy-to-drink combination of London No.3 gin, vermouth, St Germain liqueur and peach bitters.
While wine is certainly the star of Margaux’s drinks menu, with no less than 200 varieties and a welcome focus on wines by the glass, its carefully crafted cocktail constituent shows that it continues apace with other high-end establishments in its impressive bar selection. There’s also a fine line-up of Cognacs and single malt Scotches for sophisticated sipping.
Our knowledgeable waitress recommended a number of classic French and European starters, one was of course foie gras, which my guest ordered, and another was the swordfish, a favourite of mine that I couldn’t resist, and which didn’t fail to impress. A mix of seared swordfish dice, tomato petal confit and a leek and lemon vinaigrette, the dish had a salty moreishness which avoided overpowering the other subtle flavours in the dish. The meat, smothered in plenty of rich olive oil, was fat and juicy and left a pleasant taste of salt on your lips.
Pan seared Angus fillet with foie gras sauce and glazed garden vegetables
My guest’s seared foie gras, which was smothered onto a toasted brioche bun and served with vanilla, pear, and port reduction, was rich and indulgent, but to so much as to overwhelm. The naturally deep and heavy flavours of the delicious foie gras and port were happily balanced by the sweetness of the soft pear. Crunchy hazelnuts meanwhile offered a nice, contrasting texture.
This readied our palates for the next course, and, in keeping with our Francophile evening, we ordered two French classics. I opted for a warming beef bourguignon which, with its flavoursome, melt in your mouth cubes of meat, heavy sauce and a creamy side of wholesome polenta, gave me a real taste of France in winter. My guest, not content with his fill of goose liver in the starter course, ordered the pan seared angus fillet with a foie gras sauce and glazed garden vegetables. The meat, he claims, was one of the best steaks he’s had in London. The succulent, tender beef, saturated in thick creamy sauce, was nothing short of lip-smackingly delicious, while the fresh vegetables and crunchy croutons gave a welcome variety to texture and flavour. It took a significant bulk of my persuasive abilities to stop my guest from lifting the plate to his face, and licking it ferociously.
I would encounter the same problem when dessert arrived. Before the course, we were offered a couple of glasses of dessert wine. Hesitant at first since I generally prefer dark and heavy flavours, both the Hungarian Tojaki Aszu and Jurancon Moelleux were a delight. The former was sweet and full bodied why the latter was a little more fragrant and heavy.
Caramelised apple tart with cinnamon ice cream and orange zest
I was then confronted by what was quite possibly the most chocolately dessert I have ever tasted – the dark chocolate textures. A decadent mix of brownie, ice cream, mousse, liquor, flakes, nibs and glaze – all chocolate-flavoured of course – the dish was an edible playground of cocoa. My companion choose the caramelised apple tart, which after a bite, turned out to be one of my own favourite dishes of the night. Layer after layer of soft, sweet, apple pile high atop a syrupy, crunchy base which when paired with an impeccable cinnamon ice cream, is divine.
In all, Margaux is a fine example of confident, traditional French which is not afraid to veer into modern innovation. In a relaxed, comfortable setting, it manages to strike the right balance between refined, sophisticated cuisine and hearty home cooking. Here, high-quality ingredients and big flavours are the stars of the show, acting out modern reinventions of much-loved classics. As my observant companion said, “this is proper food”.
Margaux, 152 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0BE; Tel: +44 (0)20 7373 5753