Monday, 14 December 2009


36 Gloucester Road
London SW7 4QT
020 7 584 1118

L’Etranger is probably best known to the English as the french title to Albert Camus’ book now usually translated as The Outsider. Etranger is an adjective as well as a noun meaning strange, unknown, unfamiliar. While the décor was modern hip attractive with well spaced tables, so it otherwise proved to be.

The wine list was like something out of the City before the credit crunch. It begins with a ‘lunch and early bird wine list’ which starts with Champagne and offers you first off a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot 1982 for £45 reduced from £65. It isn’t lunch time and I’m not an early bird but I’ve got the message. This is going to be hideously expensive. It works up to a bottle of Cristal Rose 2000 reduced from £490 to £400. I’d have to be an early bird in very serious need of flight assistance after a very large bonus payment to even consider it! After the early bird list come wines by the glass and then the wine list starts with Sake (that becomes clearer when I look at the menu). The first thing on the Sake list is a 1991 Daiginjo Nama for £115. The wine list proper then starts with Champagne, works through half bottles and starts on page thirteen with the first full bottle of still wine that isn’t early bird, Sake or Champagne! Phew! It now starts to work alphabetically white first, by region. Alsace is first with wines ranging from £45-80.

Call me conventional but this wine list gets things off to a bad start for me. I think it is helpful when you have a wine list which is 49 pages long to start with recommended wines that cost less than £50 so that the non-oenophile or those on a more limited budget are not faced with reading a book in order to make a selection, even if the restaurant clientele is dominated by hedge fund managers with a passion for Cristal .

The menu is no better. The restaurant propostion is itself strange: a mixture of Japanese and French. The confusion of choice is confounded by the number of available menus: a Menu du Jardin, an a la carte Menu, a Maki and Sashimi menu, a degustation menu all of which have starters and main courses. For the confused hedge fund manager who can’t cope with all this choice there is even a “champagne et poissons” menu which at £109 per head (minimum 2 people) throws in a bottle of Dom Perignon 2000. Personally I think the fizzy wine would be wasted on the black cod and miso or rather vice versa. Call me old fashioned I also think it is a bit vulgar.

Jerome Tauvron is a classically trained french chef who has worked with Marco Pierre White, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Guerard. He clearly also loves Japanese food. We shared a signature dish of his: caramelised black cod with miso and shared crispy squid with spring onion and chilli as a starter. The cod was wonderful: sweet, tender, flaky. It came with beautiful Japanese sticky rise in an elegant roll. We asked what we should have with it and selected spinach which somehow didn’t work very well. The starter wasn’t perhaps quite as crispy delicious as it might have been and was just good rather than exceptional. To drink we had a bottle of Fie Gris (a grape variety similar to Sauvignon Blanc and believed to be related) from the Loire which went well with cod (it needs something sharp and anything too buttery or grand would be quite inappropriate), and at £40 was one of the cheapest wines on the very long list! The service was admirable and the wine waiter steered us towards an appropriate wine despite my complaints about the layout of the list.
Altogether a case of delivered on the fundamentals, shame about some aspects of the presentation; better than the other way round! The service was also impeccable, helpful and friendly and managed to avoid the off putting hauteur sometimes encountered in somewhere which is performing such a delicate dance between driving for standards and pretension.

L'Etranger on Urbanspoon

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