Aubaine Mayfair: Scored on most – but not all – counts (June 2013)

French food in London can often be a culinary minefield, with the experience ranging from the old-fashioned and high-end (think Gavroche) to the touristy and tacky (Café Rouge). Aubaine manages to sit comfortably between these two extremes and constitutes an enjoyable and fairly priced – if not exceptional – dining option. First impressions certainly do count in restaurant terms and the furnishing of Aubaine’s Dover Street branch was certainly superb, not just a vast improvement on the clinically metallic edges of the predecessor on this site (Chez Gerrard), but lovely in its own right. The mellow grey of the walls complemented the white of the furniture; there were plants on every table, there were good quantities of natural light and well-balanced acoustics resulting from the appropriate spacing of tables. The menu offers a choice of around a dozen different starter and main dishes, and the three of us who dined here on this occasion found little cause for complaint regarding either the presentation or the pricing of the food. The service, however, left a little more to be desired. My starter was definitely better than the main: to begin, a luxuriously rich duck egg was placed upon wonderfully fresh and crunchy asparagus, itself seated upon an inventive and well-matched broad bean pesto. The main of scallops was more pedestrian and the pea purée unpleasantly salty. Our bottle of Picpoul was also a good food pairing and competitively priced at less than £25 (the wines range from £18 to £60+). However, I counted at least four failings with the service, all of which could easily have been avoided (notwithstanding those my comrades may have observed): first, one of our party was originally not given a plate on which to put his discarded mussel shells; second, and most egregiously, we had to ask for refills of our wines glasses – since the bottle was being kept cool elsewhere – and indeed when we did ask, the waiter sought initially to sell us another bottle rather than refill our glasses from the existing one; next, one our coffees was delivered incorrectly (a double rather than a single espresso), for which there was but a token apology; and, finally, the waiter spilled a bottle of discarded tonic water on our table when clearing it. None of these alone would constitute a failing, but (at least) four faults combined might be considered sufficient reason not to make a return visit an immediate priority.