Every now and then, you stumble upon a restaurant so special that it’s an emotional experience you take with you and enjoy long after you’ve left. La Poule au Pot is one such rare treasure.
The restaurant was recommended by one of my dear French friends who had heard great things, so we decided to treat ourselves on a Monday evening. I went in with an open mind: apart from perusing the menu a couple of days prior, I did no research of any kind. And, so, I was caught entirely by surprise when I stumbled upon this delightful spot.
I felt as if I’d been somehow transported into old France: the terracotta jugs and old world dishes, the traditional lace curtains, the paintings on the wall, the long and tall white candles at the table in the style that is hardly seen anymore. The place has a bit of a nostalgic farmhouse kind of feel, like a French countryside location. It was absolutely charming, and quintessentially romantic -but not in the over-the-top, flashy way. No, this is romantic in a soft, cozy, familiar way. It is a perfect date venue; my photos don’t do it justice.
This was clearly going to be an immersive experience: it isn’t merely French food on the plate, but the experience of being in France. Every corner of the restaurant is decorated with care, every glass or dish fits with this experience. The whole staff is French and, consequently, French speaking, which adds to the air of authenticity. Who needs three hours on the Eurostar to cross the Channel when you can come here?
After having swapped from our original table by the window due to quite a strong draft from the cold outside, we perused the menus and learned there was a set menu which my friend selected (3 courses, £30). I preferred the a’ la’ carte selection. The menus consisted of many French classics and favourites (think onion soup, snails, game dishes, and of course chicken: the restaurant’s namesake dish), and both menus were very reasonably priced for our Belgravia location.
As a starter, my friend opted for the mussels, and the portion was quite generous. The smell was inviting and the lovely juices called out for some lovely French bread to absorb it with – bread which, delivered to your table in a characteristic bread basket – was baked to perfection, from crust right through to the middle.
I, however, had ordered the onion soup: a dish I absolutely adore when it’s cooked well, but is very difficult to find a version that is actually made well. Look no further, because this onion soup was among the best of my life: the onions and broth were so rich in flavour, and the cheese was just enough and perfectly balanced with the deliciousness underneath it. It was possibly a bit on the salty side for me, but I enjoyed every mouthful of it. It was truly delightful.
I ordered a main dish that was intriguing to me: duck breast in lime sauce. I’ve seen duck prepared with berries, apple and even orange, but I’ve never seen lime as the predominant flavour accompanying the duck. I was fascinated; I had to order it. Upon its arrival, the aroma was as heavenly as the taste. I was absolutely delighted to experience the delicate flavour this sauce (thick in consistency as a sauce, not a jus). Both the sweetness and the tanginess of the lime come through, but in such a delicate, refined manner that is in no way overpowering as I had feared. The duck itself was cooked to absolute perfection, and was served in a homestyle dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables for the table.
These may sound like simple vegetables, but these were packed with flavour. The peas were ‘al dente’ rather than mush (my preference), and the taste was rich, warm and deep, like they’d been cooking for ages. The potatoes too were perfect: light and fluffy, in a bite you could taste potato, creaminess, butter, and salt all in the perfect proportions and consistency. Funny how such a small thing like mashed potatoes can be so easy to get wrong – which is why these perfect mashed potatoes are worthy of their praise.
Their attentive service really came to light when it came to the dessert: I had ordered a creme brule’ because, when a creme brule’ is done well, it is heavenly and if I had any chance of seeing it done well it would be here. When it arrived, I was sorely disappointed to see it served cold and, very obviously, straight from the refrigerator. They offered to warm it up with the torch, but then naturally, it didn’t have that sugar coating that cracks when you break into it. Seeing my disappointment, they very kindly – and of their own accord – offered to replace it with any other dessert on the menu. Feeling embarrassed about the fuss, they kindly assured me it wasn’t a problem and so I ordered another classic: tarte tatin.
My tarte tatin, served with chantilly cream, was delicious. Like the rest of the meal, it was warm and comforting: like having a home-cooked meal made by your grandmother. It had a relatively light caramelisation so it didn’t feel so naughty, and a healthy portion of apples. As large of a portion as it was, I probably could have had another. Sure, if I had to look for details to critique, then yes, it was obvious it was reheated because it still had a couple of cold bites at the end, but in light of the meal as a whole, that really is nit-picking.
The evening ended with the restaurant manager kindly offering us some sweet dessert wine on the house, which gave us an opportunity to reflect once more on the exceptional dinner we’d just had. I appreciate I’m a passionate Italian and massive foodie, but I nearly was moved to tears from the experience of such a special evening. So rarely does it happen that a dining experience moves me mind, body and soul as this one has. And to think, without wine the 3-course meal came to less than £50.00: a true bargain to be transported to France for an evening in such a preciously delightful way.
As we left, the manager greeted us on our way out with a bisou on each cheek, bringing out French experience full circle. Bracing the cold, winter evening on our journey back home somehow didn’t seem so difficult, having had both our bellies and our hearts warmed. I will, no doubt, be returning again.
*Calories for the evening were a little challenging to calculate, but I’ve estimated for the onion soup, duck and sides, tarte tatin and 3 slices of the brown bread (couldn’t help myself!) with butter at about 1,200 calories.
Food taste: 4 / 5 (Beautiful food, original flavour combinations with the duck… I would have rated this higher had it not been for the creme brule’)
Food/table presentation: 4.5 / 5 (The food looked tempting and appetising, and I appreciated the tablecloths – rare these days – as well as the dishes that so uniquely fit the theme)
Service: 4.5 / 5 (Friendly, attentive, warm; staff went above and beyond to accommodate me with dessert)
Atmosphere/decor: 4.5 / 5 (I can’t recall the last time I saw a restaurant that took such care in creating such a special atmosphere. Shame about the draft)
Value for money: 4.5 / 5 (Wonderfully authentic French food, in one of London’s priciest neighborhoods, at these prices? It’s a dream)
Overall rating: 4.4 / 5