Easy and predictable, there is a lot to be said for the chain restaurant, however we tend to avoid them in the big city – there are just too many independent places offering great food and drink. Today though, having arrived at Inn the Park (in St James’ Park) momentarily too late for Sunday lunch, all day dining was evidently required, and as at only 7 restaurants we are unsure whether it is really a chain, Aubaine on Heddon Street beckoned. While we were hoping for a table in the sun on the outdoor terrace, unsurprisingly none were available, but we were warmly welcomed by the charming Maitre d’, and found a quiet corner inside (which, with large windows open, was almost al fresco anyway). Cheerful, relaxed service was the theme throughout, and despite a constant turnover of guests, many in for tea and patisseries, we were never hurried or pressured.
Something that I rarely pay much attention to is the bowl of bread that invariably greets you, however I’m very glad that we investigated it’s contents today: the fresh and crusty French bread was absolutely brilliant (as one can expect from a restaurant that evolved from the quest to find perfect French bread in London), and came with a pat of my new favourite food: Beurre d’Isingy, possibly the best butter in the world – an exceptional and simple combination. On to the menu, then, and while all the starters sounded delicious (though after a few days in the home of the Carpaccio, I’m not sure I will be able to even look at another one for a little while), today was not the day, and we pressed straight on to the comprehensive list of mains.
Like Carpaccio, sea food was off the cards, so I opted for the Roast rack of lamb with niçoise garnish. The lamb was tender and succulent, and beautifully presented on a bed of buttery crushed new potatoes, surrounded by tasty green beans, olives, onion, courgette and carrots, all packing a flavoursome crunch. GG went for a Duck Confit Parmentier, which was very tidily put together – rounds of parsnip mash, shredded duck and parmesan that would have been acceptable to anyone with mild OCD, and that was also full of flavour and was nicely complimented by a side of perfectly fresh spinach.
As ever, our firmly held belief that pudding goes into a separate stomach came into play, and rather than a menu to peruse, we were presented with a great slate of patisseries, each of them with an explanation – making what is usually a tricky choice even harder. Resisting the temptation of the enormous Millefeuille we settled on a chocolate eclair, in beautifully fresh choux, and a slice of the rich and moist chocolate cake, which was equally satisfying, a great end to a good lunch. Sunday lunch isn’t the same without something to wet the throat, and we accompanied today with a bottle of flavoursome Sancerre from the relatively short but comprehensive wine list.
In all then, Aubaine gave us charming and attentive service, delicious food and drink, and a thoroughly civilised end to the Easter holidays. Two courses come in at around £25-30 per person, and the wine list starts at a very reasonable £18 a bottle. If every chain restaurant felt this personal, I’m sure we wouldn’t ever avoid them.
Aubaine, 4 Heddon Street, W1B 4BS. 0207 440 2510.