The average Sloane Ranger has plenty of choice for French restos, from the sublime (Medlar) to the not-so-sublime (Colbert). La Poule au Pot, in a lovely square on Ebury Street, evokes memories of real paysan France and has stood the test of time, despite its faults (which I’ll come on to).
Let’s start with the good points. La Poule au Pot is a down to earth bistro and, arguably, you’ll have a more authentic experience here than the tourist trap Colbert by the tube station. It has a lovely ambience. It is almost entirely candlelit at night. Near darkness may not be for everyone – indeed, some customers feel it’s OK to kill the atmosphere by using the torch on their smartphone to read the menu. Just ask the waiter to read the menu to you. Or better still, come in daylight. They’re open all day.
I love the internal design, with its nooks and crannies, alcoves and cosy bits. Looking up you’ll see the occasional random basket of lavender or a string of onions (as if the staff and entirely French menu aren’t reminders enough that this is a French restaurant).
Beneath the alluring veneer of a charming bistro is just passable food and service
Unfortunately though, the charming ambience and internal design are about the best things going for La Poule au Pot. I wouldn’t bother crossing London for the food. It’s distinctly ordinary. There’s nothing wrong with a classic bistro offering as long as the classics are executed well and are worth the money. Here, I’m not so sure. The steak was tough and stringy; the crème brûlée at least passed my brûlée test with my spoon, but the stodgy and sweet crème element nearly put me in a diabetic coma. The star of the show really was the cheese quiche. I could eat that again and again until I get the cheese sweats.
The service is…well… Gallic. There was an accumulation of minor faults: we had to ask for bread; the wine order was forgotten; the waiter couldn’t advise on the wines when questioned; a pepper sauce was brought with my steak when I clearly asked for béarnaise. These, in isolation, would not bother me much. That was until we got the United Airlines treatment and were forced to move to a different table half way through the meal! Slight brusqueness and small mistakes are one thing, but forced displacement mid-meal is a whole other game of boules.
small mistakes are one thing, but forced displacement mid-meal is a whole other game of boules
Also, the toilets haven’t been upgraded in about 30 years. Is it really that difficult to get liquid hand soap in Chelsea? This is a restaurant in the 21st century, not a pub in the 80s.
The wine list is entirely French, which is OK, but to offer mediocre vintages at high mark-ups and be so myopic with your terroirs at the same time isn’t great. I fully accept it’s a French bistro but a slight nod to the New World for diversity’s sake would be nice. It was actually quite a task to find something that wasn’t a complete rip-off. They also need to invest in better glassware.
I wanted to love it. But it’s a mixed bag. Beneath the alluring veneer of a charming bistro is just passable food and service. L’habit ne fait pas le moine.
La Poule au Pot
231 Ebury Street
by J A Smith