John McClements's latest restaurant, Le Provence in Barnes, south-west London, is a traditional bistro offering high-quality regional French cuisine at reasonable prices. Kerstin Kuhn reports.
John McClements has opened a good few restaurants in his time. From the opening in 1987 of McClements on Twickenham Green - where he gained a Michelin star in 2004 - to the launch of his Ma Cuisine collection of bistros and last year's opening of A Taste of McClements in Kew, some might say the south-west London-based chef-restaurateur has been around the block a few times when it comes to launching restaurants.
His latest venture, Le Provence in Barnes, is the reincarnation of a former Ma Cuisine outlet. The concept didn't work in the middle-class neighbourhood, and after failing to sell the site, McClements decided to relaunch it. "Ma Cuisine serves your classics - French onion soup, cassoulets, foie gras - and the menu was just too heavy for the locals in Barnes. Many of them have houses in the South of France so they're more familiar with a more southern-focused menu," McClements says.
So Le Provence, as the name suggests, serves a southern French menu in a casual environment. McClements oversees the kitchen but plans to leave head chef Timothy Francis in charge from the autumn. The average spend at Le Provence for three courses, including wine and service, is a reasonable £40. McClements says that through his Kew Fish supplier business he cuts out the middle man and passes on better prices. "We get all of our ingredients from the market, so are able to save up to 30% in costs."
Le Provence is divided into a 40-seat main dining room and 20-seat bar, with the latter serving a lighter tapas-style menu offering small plates priced from £3 to £4.50. McClements says he split the restaurant into two distinct areas to cater for the demands of the local market. "People like to pop in for a drink and a quick bite, and the bar menu is popular, especially on weekends," he says. Dishes featured include mini steak tartare (£4); brandade of salt cod cakes (£4); foie gras ice-cream (£4.50); and duck rillette on crispy bread (£3).
In the dining room, the à la carte menu offers a range of classic French dishes, many of which bear strong Mediterranean influences. It is a menu reminiscent of the south that is contemporary and light in its conception.
Starters, priced from £4 to £8, include vichyssoise (£4); six oysters on ice with red wine vinegar (£8); moules marinière (£6); and a selection of charcuterie (£6). The idea is to keep it simple and light. But it's not all straightforward bistro fare, and more adventurous first courses include a risotto of fresh sea urchin (£7), where the pungent orange roe perfectly counterbalances an otherwise plain dish; as well as quail filled with foie gras served on a bed of Puy lentils (£7).
Main courses are also competitively priced, ranging from £12 to £19, and feature a balanced selection of seafood and vegetarian options next to dishes from the grill. The signature dish of bouillabaisse (£17) is served traditionally deconstructed, with the selection of fish and shellfish, a jug of broth, croûtons, grated Gruyère and rouille delivered to the table separately to be brought together by the diner.
Wild rabbit (£14) comes from the South of France and is slow-cooked with fennel, garlic and tomato; while a medley of Pyrenees lamb with ratatouille and black olive jus (£14) offers tastes of the shoulder, leg and chop of a milk-fed lamb from the charcoal grill. Entrecôte steak is hung for 42 days and served with chunky chips and béarnaise sauce (£19).
AND TO FINISH
Desserts, priced £4.50, are light and classic and include crème brûlée, caramelised orange with Grand Marnier, and a heavy-handed, home-made prune and Armagnac ice-cream that isn't for the faint-hearted.
Front of house is managed by Dominic Sejoune, who oversees a wine list that provides a range of choices by the glass and is as reasonably priced as the food, ranging from £12.50 to £65, with the house Champagne at £35.
Le Provence offers high-quality regional French cuisine at reasonable prices. Once back from their holidays, locals will find a little piece of France right on their doorstep.
Le Provence, 7 White Hart Lane, London SW13 0PX
Tel: 020 8878 4092
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Lobster bisque (£6)
- Dressed crab mayonnaise (£7.50)
- Tarte fine of courgettes and goats cheese topped with tapenade (£5)
- Grilled Pyrenees lamb with ratatouille and black olive jus (£14)
- John Dory with crushed new potatoes and aioli sauce (£16)
- Pressed gateau of Provençal, fennel and garlic (£13)
- Crème brûlée (£4.50)
- Coffee pannacotta (£4.50)
- Tarte au chocolat (£4.50)