Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sixty Years of Staying Power; Eating Out: London's Oldest French Restaurant Has Been in Business So Long, Even De Gaulle Dined There in 1942

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Sixty Years of Staying Power; Eating Out: London's Oldest French Restaurant Has Been in Business So Long, Even De Gaulle Dined There in 1942

Article excerpt

Byline: FAY MASCHLER

MON PLAISIR is 60 years old this year. The owners describe it as London's oldest French restaurant and I can't think of a reason or any other establishment that would entirely refute that claim.

L'Escargot (originally L'Escargot Bienvenu) in Greek Street is probably older, but the cooking offered there these days is what tends to be described as modern British.

Longevity in itself is not necessarily a virtue; it is the fact that only two families have owned Mon Plaisir - where apparently Charles de Gaulle dined in 1942 - which is rare and noteworthy.

The Viala brothers established Mon Plaisir in the Forties as a typical French bistro seating about 30 customers. It ably satisfied the yearnings of the Francophile British who had travelled to discover a world beyond the stodgy and pompous food of most indigenous catering. Alain Lhermitte bought the business in 1972 and has slowly expanded the premises to the 100-seater space spread through several rooms and levels that exists now.

The original decor, with kitsch memorabilia, gastronomic maps of France and posters for drinks such as Dubonnet, survives in updated form and seamlessly links the original front room to the rest.

A new chef has arrived in the shape of Thierry Laborde who has trained with Alain Ducasse and, in London, worked at Le Gavroche. His own creations live alongside the list of staples and classics without which Mon Plaisir would lose its soul and its raison d'Itre.

Thus the menu divides into various sections: A la carte, Les Classiques-SpEcialitEs du Chef, Menu Parisien (evenings only) and a Pre- Theatre Menu at pound sterling 15.95 requiring tables to be vacated by 8pm. I ate dinner with four others, the better to get to grips with so many options, although roaming between menus is not frowned upon.

From the list of classics, the cassolette d'escargots provided a dozen plump snails lolling in garlic butter in a dimpled glazed earthenware dish which was exactly what was expected and wanted. The chap who chose steak tartare with a side order of pommes allumettes was also completelycontented with his lot, but had to guard the crisp, golden, perfect chips from others at the table. …

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