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Le Café du Jardin

In the heart of London's Covent Garden

When eating out in France set menus are a regular feature in the majority of restaurants and they offer an affordable alternative to the a la carte. Here, the concept has gradually caught on and this can only be a good thing as we all know how expensive London can be! Le Café du Jardin is situated in the heart of Covent Garden, hence its name. A stone's throw from the Royal Opera House and numerous West End theatres it is an ideally situated place to pop into for a tranche of all things Gallic. As well as an a la carte menu it offers a reasonably priced set menu at lunch or for a bite pre/post theatre trip, whilst on Sundays it is available from noon to 11pm.

The restaurant's interior  is light and airy, with windows on all sides. It is a small and intimate space which I could imagine would be very cosy on a dark winters evening with its burgundy chairs and starched linen cloths offering an inviting atmosphere, my only grumble would be that if it was busy it could seem a little cramped as the tables are a little on the small side and spaced quite close together.

I began with a very substantial deep fried crab cake served with spring onion risotto, tomato relish and chilli oil. It had a tender and crisp exterior whilst having a very spicy interior - piquant - with plenty of fresh coriander to kick the taste buds into gear - the risotto added a good contrast to the lively flavours on the plate. My guest commented that his pan fried scallops with white truffle mashed potatoes, balsamic vinegar and a tomato and coriander dressing were cooked perfectly. He also loved the presentation which was visually stunning, and he thought it was a perfect size for a starter.

The wine list is predominately European with an accent on France, although there is a varied selection of wines from across both the old and new world. We tried a white burgundy, St. Veran (Joseph Drouhin), so different from the type of wine I usually order and confirmed that fact that I actually do like French Chardonnay - when its not too oily and buttery - this one wasn't!

To follow I tried the baked halibut with paw paw salsa and sautéed polenta. This was a dish of clean, individual tastes, all very inviting, the polenta particularly crispy and comforting to eat. My guest’s crayfish risotto with caramelised red onions and soft herbs, although being visually stunning and plentiful was incredibly rich and rather unexpectedly sweet - apparently this was due to the intense flavour of the red onions.

The majority of people eating at lunchtime with us were business types entertaining clients and I would say this is a perfect place for them. A professional set up with authentic cooking and attentive, knowledgeable staff all served up in a central location.

Louise Elgin. September 2006.

Le Café Du Jardin 28 Wellington Street London WC2 Tel: 020 7836 8769

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