Julie Bindel

In praise of neighbourhood restaurants

In praise of neighbourhood restaurants
Aubergine Schnitzel, Table Du Marché
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Living in Crouch End, a part of North London without a tube line and a distinctly villagy feel, you might imagine I would be spoilt for choice with excellent local restaurants. But Crouch End, like it’s posh neighbour Hampstead, has a bad reputation in that field. Too many coffee shops, the odd chain, and one or two overpriced gaffs that remind me of the phrase ‘All fur coat and no knickers’.

I occasionally Google ‘Best restaurants near me‘ in case I’ve missed something, and one day, Table Du Marché popped up – a restaurant I had never heard of, despite it being just up the road in East Finchley. With an almost exclusively local clientele, Table Du Marché has no need to advertise, and does a decent trade for weekday lunch and evenings.

Film buffs would do well to mark this place down as a great location to shoot that romantic scene in a Parisian brasserie. A long dining room with a bar to the left as you enter, I had a great time sampling the classics; snails in garlic butter, steak frite, and a buttery apple sable.

I took the bus home, holding my new discovery like a piece of buried treasure.

But lo and behold, a few weeks earlier in Crouch End, Les 2 Garçons, a new bistro de quartier within walking distance of my home had opened, as I discovered when on Facebook looking for a local electrician. A tiny place, with only 20 covers, the menu oozes Gallic charm.

The 2 Garçons are chef Robert Reid and front-of-house Jean-Christophe Slowik, also a wine merchant. They met while working at Marco Pierre White's The Oak Room in 1998, and finally, having talked about if for years, opened a restaurant that is the polar opposite of The Oak Room.  I love local restaurants like Les 2 Garçons as much as I dislike chains.

Whilst Reid cooks in the tiny kitchen, partially visible from my table near the bar, Slowik keeps the customers happy. There is a short menu; snails of course, onion soup, scallops, seabream in cooking juices, steak frites, duck with lentils. There is but one vegetarian main, an aubergine and chickpea stew for main, but it’s French, right?

This is everything you would ever want from a local restaurant. Daily specials depending on what’s good at market, personal chat with the proprietors, (the chef comes out to serve the dishes when Slowik is busy replenishing wineglasses or slicing the baguette) and it being so compact means it is almost inevitable that there will be friendly banter with the next-door table.

The wine starts with a white and a red from Languedoc at £26. There are a couple of desert wines to go with the rum baba, apple tart and the like, and for the runny French cheeses, a decent port.

Local restaurants, if done right, can be tailored to the regular customer in a way chains are not. They are specialised, community-oriented and provide a personalised service. The owners are our neighbours working hard to pursue their dreams, rather than working for a large corporation and making shareholders rich.

Their livelihoods depend on our regular visits and word-of-mouth recommendations and are ever evolving to adapt to requests and favourites of customers.

I have now eaten twice at Les 2 Garçons; once early evening and alone, and the second time with a group of foody friends. We asked Slowik to choose our wines without looking at the menu, and he picked out the perfect choices for both red and white. His ‘favourites’ are listed on the menu at around the £70 mark, but his recommendations for our table came in at well under £40. As we paid our bill Reid appeared in his splattered whites for a chat, and we left in jolly moods.

Walking home I recalled my dinner in central London last week, after which I fought my way on to the tube at Piccadilly Station, wishing I could be teleported home. The joy of a short walk home after the perfect meal is one to behold.

Table Du Marché

https://tabledumarchelondon.co.uk/

111 High Rd, East Finchley, London, N2 8AG

Les 2 Garçons

https://www.les2garconsbistro.com/

143b Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London N8 9QH