On my Instagram feed recently, in among all the photos of artfully messy food flatlays, impossibly glamorous women in maxi dresses on tropical beaches, and adorable kittens doing goofy things, I found this quote: “I need a 6 month holiday, twice a year”. And let’s be honest, who hasn’t felt like that at some stage? But how do you get to enjoy le weekend en France when you have no leave left for the year, the bank balance is heading rapidly south, and Brexit is decimating your Pound’s purchasing power abroad? Well allow me to let you in on a little secret: for your fix of French culinary glamour you need to head no further than Patron Cave a Manger in Kentish Town.
Patron Cave à Manger is the brainchild of Jean-Francois Pioc and Tanzi Ellison, a French/English couple living in Kentish Town with their bilingual terrier Pippin (who was at the restaurant on the night we visited!). Having previously run the Café Gourmand bistro in Soho, they opened Patron in 2015 with the idea of creating a Paris-style brasserie offering a carefully selected list of fine French wines and classic cocktails alongside some of France’s most iconic dishes. When I arrived on a sunny summer evening, the cosy room with its intimate bistro tables, bentwood chairs, gorgeous teal leather banquettes, exposed brick wall, gilt-framed mirror and beautiful curved marble cocktail bar was bathed in sunlight – a relaxed and inviting space to while away a couple of Francophile hours.
A cave à manger is really a cross between a wine bar and a tapas bar with a special liquor license that allows patrons to drink alcohol only if they order food, so the focus really is on the wine. Patron sticks mostly to this ethos – the menu is brief and to the point – 8 starters, 4 mains, 4 sides and 4 desserts. In terms of content, it reads rather like a “French Cuisine Greatest Hits” compilation featuring classics like steak tartare, Camembert fondu, duck confit, onglet steak and chocolate mousse. The wine list is 99.9% French (there’s a lone Prosecco) and prices sit comfortably in the £28-£65 price range. There is a compact list of classic cocktails and mocktails from which we sampled a Vesper (£9.00) while we nibbled on the thinly sliced bread and considered the menu.
To start, we shared three dishes: a bowl of chargrilled Padron peppers (£5.50); a goat’s cheese tartlet (£7.00) and steak tartare (£8.00). All were beautifully executed. The peppers still retained some crispness despite their appealing char. The tartlet consisted of a satisfyingly chunky round of goat’s cheese perched on a small disc of crisp puff pastry, well paired with the complementary flavours of sweet caramelised onions and tangy rocket pesto. The classic hand-cut steak tartare came already mixed with mustard, capers, shallots and cornichons, topped with a raw quail egg in its half-shell. Almost too pretty to eat! To wash this down we had a bottle of Domaine Les Mesclances rosé (£32.00) which was packed with appealing ripe strawberry flavours while still retaining a nicely balanced crispness – a lovely food wine.
For my main course I could not resist the confit duck served with truffled mash (£17.50); while Rosana chose the special of the day when we visited: rabbit tagine with braised fennel (£21.50). The duck was a generously sized portion, beautifully cooked so that the flesh could be pulled apart with a fork. It made for an indulgent meal together with the rich truffled mash. Rosana’s rabbit was similarly fall-off-the-bone tender and the caramelised sweetness of the braised fennel worked very well as an accompaniment.
By this stage of the meal my spirit was willing to try a dessert… but my flesh was weak (or at the very least, stuffed to capacity!). So instead, I chose to have a liquid dessert off the cocktail menu in the shape of a truly gigantic tiramisu martini (£12.00); while Rosana ordered the café gourmand (£8.00) – the fabulous French invention for people who struggle with decision-making. Her mini-dessert selection comprised chocolate hazelnut mousse, strawberry cheesecake and a little creme brulee, all of which were delicious. My tiramisu martini (a heady mix of Mozart chocolate liqueur, double cream, Bacardi rum, Kahlua and Baileys) was show-stoppingly delicious and did I mention… literally the size of my head?? Not cheap but definitely worth every penny.
Service was charmingly French and excellent all night and the ambience was relaxed and happy as locals drifted in for drinks, snacks and meals. All the food we had was of very good quality and it was in some ways refreshing not to be confronted with a menu as long as your arm full of cutting edge dishes. There is a reason for the enduring popularity of French bistro food: it is good and uncomplicated and full of bold, appealing flavours. Patron Cave A Manger ticks lots of boxes, from the reasonably priced wine list to the appealing room to the delicious food – my only complaint is that it is not situated closer to my house.
Patron is opening a sister restaurant in Highbury and Islington in February 2020.
Cost per head: approx £50 for 3 courses and a shared bottle of wine
Nearest Tube/Train station: Tufnell Park/Kentish Town
Patron Cave a Manger
26 Fortess Rd
If you enjoyed this post, why not have a look at:
- my other London restaurant reviews
- my review of Le Relais de Venise
- my review of Le Pont de la Tour
- my review of Cigalon
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this meal as a guest of Patron Cave A Manger but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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