Test Driving Maison Francois - an instant hit in St James

maison francois st james restaurant review londonThe rather beautiful dining room at Maison Francois

What do we need to know about Maison Francois?

Even before we visited it, this new St James restaurant was creating a stir. Loads of people had told us both how good the food was and that the restaurant was beautiful. So it's fair to say we had high hopes.

The team behind it are restaurant folk through and through. Francois O'Neill who lent the place its name is from a hospitality family - his dad Hugh O’Neill co-founded Brasserie St. Quentin and his cousin Quentin Crewe, was the restaurant critic at the Evening Standard for almost twenty years. Joining Francois here is Ed Wynd who Hot Dinners readers may remember from Verden in Hackney (and Scott's before that). The final member of the triumvirate is chef Matthew Ryle who was head chef at Isabel and is also a MasterChef The Professional finalist.

Where exactly is it?

In the heart of St James, on Duke Street, diagonally across from 45 Jermyn Street. The nearest tube would be either Green Park or Piccadilly.

Where should we meet for a drink first?

As they actually have a standalone wine bar downstairs, this is a prime candidate. Frank's has a different drinks list and food menu - and we think it's a hugely important addition to the area. If you're looking for somewhere that falls between hotel bars and pubs, there isn't much in St James and Frank's looks to fill the gap.

As the drinks go, the cocktails have a distinct wine bent and, very importantly, wines down here start at as little as a fiver for a 125lm of sauvignon. 

maison francois st james restaurant review londonOur Vieille Prune sour made with Epping Good honey was fabulous (£14).

What about the restaurant itself?

First things first, it looks simply gorgeous. And no wonder - they brought in designer John Whelan from the Guild of St Luke, who's spent the past few years restoring Parisian brasseries like Brasserie Flo to their former glory. Here, he's had more of a free hand - the building was stripped back to its shell - but he's made it look super chic, with high ceilings, worryingly white banquettes (cleaning them will be a nightmare) and a certain post-modern elegance.

As for the menu? That's very French - with plenty of brasserie classics to be enjoyed. We didn't order, but have heard great things about the John Dory in onion soup with pig's trotters. That dish alone should give you an idea of the Frenchness. Here's what we had:

maison francois st james restaurant review londonPâté en croûte maison (£13) - we haven't had this in a restaurant since our trip to Lyons last year and this was an excellent example. Just look at the jelly on that! The seasoning was perfect too. 

maison francois st james restaurant review londonOeuf en gelée (£5) - a dish not seen much on London menus since Rowley Leigh was at Le Cafe Anglais, this features a soft poached egg suspended in aspic studded with bits of ox tongue. Heaven. And if you're wondering how this looks as you cut into it...

maison francois st james restaurant review londonGarlic, spinach and taleggio flatbread (£6) - we'll be honest, we actually ordered their Insta dish of the moment, the moules mariniere flatbread, but something got lost in translation and we were served this vegetarian version. It was lovely, but we're a bit sad about missing out on the moules.

maison francois st james restaurant review londonCôte de porc, sauce moutarde (£22) - a glorious piece of pork with melt in the mouth fat on the outside and a deeply flavoured sauce. 

What about vegans/vegetarians?

There's a large separate section devoted to salads and vegetables. And this, our main, was a great veggie dish.

maison francois st james restaurant review londonRavioles du Dauphiné, comté, poivre noir (£13.50) - we're totally stealing this perfect description from wine writer Zeren Wilson "Frenchie cacio e pepe".

Room for dessert?

There really needs to be, because if you don't have room, then how will you be able to call over the beautiful dessert trolley with all its drawers of delights?

maison francois st james restaurant review londonThe dessert trolley of calorific wonders at Maison Francois. When asked what you want, you have to restrain from saying "everything". 

maison francois st james restaurant review londonChocolate eclair (£6) - a blingy and crunchy delight. 

What's the drinks list like?

The predominantly French wine list does take in a bit of Italy, Germany and Spain, but really this is a wine list for oenophiles who know what they're after and have the budget to go for it. There's the odd bottle in the £30s (and one at £20 we spotted) but we are in St James and the wine list reflects that.

Overall thoughts

In the middle of a pandemic, it certainly takes nerves of steel to open a glitzy new brasserie in the heart of St James. But on the Tuesday night that we visited on, the place was heaving with everyone from art dealers to politicians (we spotted Sir Nicholas Soames holding court at one end of the dining room). There is palpably a "scene" here, which in the current climate is nothing short of a restaurant miracle. And we're still dreaming about that wonderful egg.


More about Maison Francois

Where is it? 36 Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6DF

How to book? Frank's is walk-ins only but reservations for restaurant are online

Find out more: Visit their website or follow them on Instagram @maisonfrancoislondon.


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