Les Gourmets des Ternes: A tiny piece of France, transplanted to London (January 2015)

Maybe a few decades ago the French felt that they deservedly had the most bragging rights when it came to culinary superiority. Times have changed though. Japan can claim to have more three Michelin-starred restaurants than France and in London, ask many diners what style of cuisine they currently rate most highly, and – best guess – it won’t be French. Nonetheless, the sense of privilege, the smug knowledge that they perhaps still believe themselves to be the top dogs when it comes to all things food-related persists at many French dining establishments, Les Gorumets des Ternes in Little Venice being no exception. A recent dining experience there began inauspiciously. Our table had been booked for 7.30pm and on arriving promptly I witnessed the place deserted, but for a waiter slouching by a table in the corner. I checked that I did not have the time wrong and indeed I did not. Particularly on a side-street which gets relatively limited footfall and where a well-established Italian a few doors down was more than half-full at the same time, surely the staff at Les Gourmets ought to have been a bit more enthusiastic? On entering, and our waiter having roused himself reluctantly, I was offered a choice of tables. While pleasant, it was also suggestive of the fact that they were not expecting the place to get busy. This was borne out by a just nine covers being in the restaurant at peak. The formula inside is simple: Les Gourmets is decorated in the style of a Parisian bistro (checked table cloths, black and white photos of celebrities on the wall etc.) and the menu also similar to that which one would find in France. Most dishes are made on premise and span the obvious, from snails and paté starters to the obligatory entrecote steak main. When we asked our server what he would recommend, we received the typically Gallic response that ‘all our dishes are good.’ In credit to Les Gourmets, our two starters and mains generally pleased, but certainly did not overwhelm. I began with the herring, fat and sumptuous, enhanced with sharp onion slivers. My sirloin steak main was not quite the medium-rare I had requested and was unpleasantly chewy in places, although the delicious pepper sauce and well-prepared spinach side somewhat compensated. There were some lapses in the service (misunderstanding our wine order, presenting our starters the wrong way round), but our server remained broadly good-humoured and we certainly weren’t rushed –although this may have been partially explained by how quiet the place was. Pricing is fair, but not cheap. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening but I certainly felt there was no strong reason to return.