What do we need to know about Maison Francois?
Even before we visited it, this new St James restaurant was creating a stir. Loads of people had told us both how good the food was and that the restaurant was beautiful. So it's fair to say we had high hopes.
The team behind it are restaurant folk through and through. Francois O'Neill who lent the place its name is from a hospitality family - his dad Hugh O’Neill co-founded Brasserie St. Quentin and his cousin Quentin Crewe, was the restaurant critic at the Evening Standard for almost twenty years. Joining Francois here is Ed Wynd who Hot Dinners readers may remember from Verden in Hackney (and Scott's before that). The final member of the triumvirate is chef Matthew Ryle who was head chef at Isabel and is also a MasterChef The Professional finalist.
Where exactly is it?
In the heart of St James, on Duke Street, diagonally across from 45 Jermyn Street. The nearest tube would be either Green Park or Piccadilly.
Where should we meet for a drink first?
As they actually have a standalone wine bar downstairs, this is a prime candidate. Frank's has a different drinks list and food menu - and we think it's a hugely important addition to the area. If you're looking for somewhere that falls between hotel bars and pubs, there isn't much in St James and Frank's looks to fill the gap.
As the drinks go, the cocktails have a distinct wine bent and, very importantly, wines down here start at as little as a fiver for a 125lm of sauvignon.
What about the restaurant itself?
First things first, it looks simply gorgeous. And no wonder - they brought in designer John Whelan from the Guild of St Luke, who's spent the past few years restoring Parisian brasseries like Brasserie Flo to their former glory. Here, he's had more of a free hand - the building was stripped back to its shell - but he's made it look super chic, with high ceilings, worryingly white banquettes (cleaning them will be a nightmare) and a certain post-modern elegance.
As for the menu? That's very French - with plenty of brasserie classics to be enjoyed. We didn't order, but have heard great things about the John Dory in onion soup with pig's trotters. That dish alone should give you an idea of the Frenchness. Here's what we had:
What about vegans/vegetarians?
There's a large separate section devoted to salads and vegetables. And this, our main, was a great veggie dish.
Room for dessert?
There really needs to be, because if you don't have room, then how will you be able to call over the beautiful dessert trolley with all its drawers of delights?
What's the drinks list like?
The predominantly French wine list does take in a bit of Italy, Germany and Spain, but really this is a wine list for oenophiles who know what they're after and have the budget to go for it. There's the odd bottle in the £30s (and one at £20 we spotted) but we are in St James and the wine list reflects that.
In the middle of a pandemic, it certainly takes nerves of steel to open a glitzy new brasserie in the heart of St James. But on the Tuesday night that we visited on, the place was heaving with everyone from art dealers to politicians (we spotted Sir Nicholas Soames holding court at one end of the dining room). There is palpably a "scene" here, which in the current climate is nothing short of a restaurant miracle. And we're still dreaming about that wonderful egg.
More about Maison Francois
Where is it? 36 Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6DF
How to book? Frank's is walk-ins only but reservations for restaurant are online
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