La Poule Au Pot
Friday, December 23rd, 2005

For my birthday this year, I was given the intimidating task of picking any (sanely priced) restaurant in London for a night out. After browsing through a large set of online reviews, and consulting my useful (albeit out-of-date) Harden’s, I chose the nearby French restaurant La Poule Au Pot. A phone call later, and a bit of compromise with the reservations on the exact date — Sunday night was wide open, while every other night in the next week was booked solid — and we were set to go.

Coming in from the cold into the cozy, busy space, we were greeted jovially, had our coats whisked away, and shown to our table for two. Utilizing well-placed screens and decoration, the space had been divided into 4-5 table-sized zones of relative privacy, while maintaining visibility and a sense of openness. The screen nearest us was made of chicken-wire frames with plastic bunches of grapes attached, which may sound a bit crap from my description, but in the low candlelight imbued a charming rural atmosphere.

To start the meal, we ordered a half-bottle of what we discovered was an amazingly smooth Bordeaux, and then chose thick white slices of bread from a basket-presented selection, with a nearly cake-like consistency which held up admirably to butter and oil.

La Poule Au Pot: Escargot

Having never tried escargot before, I didn’t know what to expect. The taste and consistency was very similar to conch, actually: a texture much like mushrooms, less chewy than clams or mussels, and with a milder flavor than any of these. The strong garlic oil overpowered the snails here, although it provided an ideal dipping sauce for the complimentary bread.

La Poule Au Pot: Pumpkin Soup

On this chilly December evening, I couldn’t resist the temptation of the pumpkin soup on special. Hearty and creamy, this soup captured the mixed essences of pumpkin and butter. It didn’t have the overpowering strength of many pumpkin dishes, and was nearly a full meal in its own right. This was the point we realized the portions were not the stereotypical miniscule high-end French, but more what you’d get at an authentic bistro dedicated to feeding people rather than presenting elegant food.

I’d been craving steak frites for weeks, and so was a bit disappointed when the more inexpensive cut of steak on the menu (and the only one labelled as coming with frites) wasn’t available. The cut that was available — I can’t remember the name on the menu, as it was in French — thankfully arrived with a basket of frites in tow and was a large if not thick steak, with more marbling than I like; while the fat lent the meat a great deal of flavour, it led to frequent overly chewy bites. The sauce (a mix of butter, chives, and presumably something else, although I couldn’t suss it out) complemented the beef very well, and acted as a dipping sauce for the frites during our more gluttonous moments. The frites themselves were surprisingly thick cuts (more like proper British chips than the Belgian-style frites I expected), and were served up in a daunting portion. Kept warm throughout the meal by a paper wrap, they never lost their crisp exteriors and hot, fluffy interiors.

La Poule Au Pot’s service was friendly if a bit forgetful (soup came without a spoon, getting water took multiple requests, and the moutarde sauce requested arrived as a butter sauce), but this was ultimately forgivable given the good wine and lack of attitude.

On a return visit, we’d order less, and sample the desserts, but this time, we’d simply eaten too much food to go any further. Go to La Poule Au Pot for a nice relaxing meal with a hearty appetite, as the generous portions of rich food will fill you to bursting.

La Poule Au Pot
231 Ebury St
London SW1W 8UT
020.7730.7763

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