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Mon Plaisir

 A Corner of Paris in Soho

Okay, I know that strapline about Paris in Soho is pretty corny, but that's exactly what the original founders of Mon Plaisir wanted to do some fifty years ago. Dusting off my 1970 Egon Ronay Guide, I read that "this miniscule restaurant is the closest London gets to a French workmen's café. A few small tables are laid with oilcloths in a little room full of character... the concise a la carte menu is supplemented daily by tasty plats du jour".  At that time I was diligently working my way through Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, and visits to Mon Plaisir were an important way of checking my progress against an accepted yardstick of bon cuisine. Main courses were then costing around 13/6d, but that was still a lot to a struggling young singer.

A few things have changed  - they bought next door, so now it's two adjacent busy dining rooms. The posters are still there, but it's more an up-market bistrot than workman's café. The atmosphere remains thoroughly Gallic and charming and the waiters have none of that attitude that gives certain French restaurants a bad name amongst the British. 

The menu offers a number of proposals, for instance, the plats du jour are still available and the Menu Parisien offers excellent value. You could have had a cassolette d'escargots, followed by poulet fermier with purée de pommes de terre, tarte of the jour, café and a glass of the house wine, all for an inclusive price of £23.50, but you need two persons to qualify. 

The great thing about Mon Plaisir is that it has retained that culinary benchmark I referred to earlier. So if you want to check out the traditional way of doing Coquilles St Jacques or want to know exactly how coq au vin should be prepared and served, look no further - le coq comes in its own individual casserole dish.  The foie gras was excellent and its pineapple chutney was a well judged modern twist. A rabbit and foie gras terrine was earthy and robust, and my pheasant and mushroom in a pastry box was rich and gamey. 

For main courses, we very much enjoyed the scallops, whose slices were interleaved with sections of black pudding. My venison en croûte was a little disappointing, it was rather overdone and a bit dry, but the lobster and scallop risotto was very tasty and creamy, if a little salty. That's always the problem with all-in-one dishes, you can taste it in the kitchen and it's fine, but at the table after the tenth mouthful the salt starts to kick in a bit too strongly!  The duck breast was a real hit - tender and rosy hued meat partnered with a foie gras crème brûlée, (a brilliant and imaginative touch), cunningly offset by a sharp flavoured compote of apples, that's what I call cooking!

The wine list is what you'd expect: French of course, and extremely well chosen, with something for all pockets. We began with a crisp Sauvignon de Touraine (£17.50) then progressed to a lovely domaine bottled St Amour (£22.00) which partnered both fish and fowl admirably, and then went on to a really characterful Chinon from Domaine de la Perrière (£19.50). 

Desserts were attractively presented - the tart that day was au citron, another benchmark creation; and both the  chocolate brûlée with pistachios and the chocopassion, a warm mousse were equally wicked and decadent. To sum up, Mon Plaisir is indeed still a corner of Paris in London, maintaining its high standards, and from the happy buzz of diners who surrounded us, I conclude that it is every bit as popular 50 years on.

Clifford Mould February 2004

The cost of your meal: Our three course dinner for four including three bottles of wine came to £214.48

Mon Plaisir

21 Monmouth Street, Soho
London WC2
Tel: 020 7836 7243

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