Le Café Du Marché – C’est Magnifique

Peter Morrell is enchanted by this little piece of France in Smithfield

Tucked down a quiet cobbled mews, just off the historic Charterhouse Square in London’s Smithfield, is an unassuming white painted building that is Le Café Du Marché. This is the sort of surprise discovery that you are far more likely to make in a French bourgeois town like Rheims or Limoges.

Venture inside and the ambience, which is a subtle blend of cosiness and sophistication, is very reminiscent of a good provincial restaurant that you would come across in France. The warm terracotta brickwork, gilt framed mirrors, exposed beams and Belle Époque posters all add to its Gallic charm.

The menu is prix fixe, with a small number of supplements. French favourites predominate and making a choice is a great dilemma. For the starters was it going to be the soupe de poisson or perhaps the rabbit and pork terrine? After much agonising, my dining companion decided on the crab and pea risotto while I was seduced by the black pudding with poached egg and a Maderia sauce.

From the first mouthful it was evident that the chef really knows and loves food. Presentation is superb, flavours are precise and well balanced, the ingredients are high quality and the cooking itself is judged to perfection. My black pudding and egg were just at the right point and the risotto likewise.

And the same applied to our main courses. We resisted the signature dish, the côte de boeuf for two with a sauce béarnaise as we wanted to try different dishes. My companion felt she chose well with the moist and tender guinea fowl while my squid with chorizo, chickpeas and chilli, although away from the traditional, was packed with some intense tastes.

We finished the meal with panna cotta and braised cherries, and polenta and lemon cake with Greek yoghurt, again all beautifully executed. The wine list ranges from under £20 up to about £75. Our choice of the house red, a Chateau Nardon 2006, was a well-structured Bordeaux supérieur with red berry fruit and a hint of spice on the palate which paired well with the food.

As well as serving excellent food, this is a restaurant with a sense of occasion. As the evening went on the atmosphere became more buzzy, and pianist Mark Ambler and a bass player entertained the appreciative and sophisticated audience with some smooth jazz.

Le Café Du Marché is a very well established, family owned restaurant which started in 1986. Executive chef Simon Cottard, who has been there for 22 years, has perfected the art of turning great ingredients into an unforgettable dining experience. Le Café Du Marché is not a ‘walk past’ restaurant and I got the feeling that many of the diners were regulars and that the discovery of Café du Marche was a secret that they had shared with their friends.

Lots of elements have to come together to make a meal memorable and this restaurant certainly ticks all the boxes. The service is attentive, friendly and professional without being intrusive, the food is first rate and the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed. It really was a great evening out and, if I needed a second opinion, the couple on the next table were saying exactly the same thing.

The prix fixe menu is £28.50 for two courses and £34.85 for three courses excluding drinks and service.

The restaurant and the upper floor called Le Grenier (The Loft) are open for lunch and dinner.

You may also be interested in visiting Le Rendezvous, this brasserie is the baby brother to the Café du Marché and shares the same building. Le Rendezvous was a lunchtime only venue but has recently started to open in the evening serving dinner.

This ‘petit frère’ is more laid back than the Café, with an a la carte menu and a brasserie ambiance, but when the candles are lit it is a very sweet place for a light, relaxed supper. The new dinner service has seen more small dishes and sharing platters introduced to give people greater variety. In the summer the doors may be wide open; in the winter the atmosphere is more snug and cosy.

Le Rendezvous is open for lunch all week. From Tuesdays to Fridays it is open for dinner from 6pm until 10pm. To book your table call 0207 336 8836.

Le Café du Marché
Charterhouse Mews
off Charterhouse Square,
London, EC1M 6BB


You can read executive chef Simon Cottard’s tip in the AMG Top Tips from Top Chefs feature by clicking here…