London’s Oldest French Restaurant
Published 4 August 2010
Restaurants will lay claim to many things in pursuit of a bit of fame, be they the longest, shortest or furthest underground. Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden has a much less gimmicky claim to fame – it’s London’s oldest French restaurant. Having been in business in the same premises for well over fifty years, its longevity is impressive, but in an area known more for tourist-trap restaurants than really good food, is it really the Crème de la crème?
Though its bright entrance makes it noticeable from the street if you’re looking, Mon Plaisir is small and understated – as seems fitting of a longstanding French restaurant. Inside, a tight corridor opens out to a few tables which form the original dining room, but around the corner are more tables and further rooms, added at various stages in the restaurant’s history and each individual in style and tardis-like in size.
The menu is also surprisingly large, spanning both traditional and modern French dishes. A starter of Parfait de Foie Gras en Gelée aux Fruits de La Passion (£9.95) is a mouthful to order but a melt-in-the-mouth eating experience. A soft parfait alternates foie gras with a smooth passion fruit jelly which is as bright in flavour as it is yellow in colour. Cassolette d’Escargots (£6.50) is simpler, and a favourite on the menu. After all, how could such a Francophile restaurant not offer snails? Served in a traditional dish, each snail snug its own hole and lavishly coated with melted butter, garlic and parsley, they are the succulent morsels so revered by the French and not the chewy, flavourless creatures that must account for so many Brits being less than endeared by them.
Main courses are split into fish and meat dishes, with side orders of vegetables and potatoes. Considering the size of the menu at Mon Plaisir, vegetarians are shockingly un-catered for, but for the carnivorous, let the feasting begin. The relatively easy to translate Jarret de Porc Confit (pork confit) with new potatoes and broad beans (£18.50) is as hearty as it sounds, whilst Cabillaud Poëlé (£17.45) sees a generous cod fillet roasted with orange juice and rosemary and then topped with a black olive tapenade. The orange and rosemary flavours merge together and offset the earthy olive taste to create a genuinely exciting dish somewhere between modern flavour-tripping and traditional French cuisine.
Desserts resort back to the classics, but are no worse for it. Crème brulée has a crackable top, a strong vanilla flavour and isn’t too sweet (£7.50), while a chocolate mousse (£6.50) is richly flavoured but surprisingly light. And then there’s the cheeseboard…
Washed down with the help of a sizeable wine list and all manner of Champagne cocktails, Mon Plaisir is not your average stop-in-for-a-bite Covent Garden restaurant. Though it would surely be a good bite if you did, there’s something in the French-ness of the place that encourages the whole decadent dining works. And we highly recommend you try it. Bon Appetit!
Price: Not cheap, but it’s fine ding and it’s Covent Garden. We reckon it’s not bad value considering…
Address: 19-21 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9DD
Nearest Tube Station: Covent Garden (5 min walk)
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday: 12pm-11.15pm; Sunday: closed.