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Test Driving Otto's - an oasis of classic hospitality

roomThe upstairs room at Otto's (half of it) with the duck presses given pride of place on the left.

What can you tell us about Otto's?

Otto's is a French restaurant in a very classic mode, ruled over by its namesake Otto Albert Tepasse. It's the kind of restaurant that looks like it's been on the spot for decades (in a good way) but was actually only started back in 2011. Since then its built up a reputation as serving up some of the finest French food in London, with a welcome that's the most cosseting you're likely to get in town.

It has many very vocal fans, with its legendary duck presses being a particular source of joy to its customers.

Where is it?

You'll find it in the Holborn area - about a 10-minute walk from Chancery Road station, at the end of Gray's Inn Road. The frontage of the restaurant is somewhat unassuming, so you'll need to keep an eye out for the black-fronted building.

Once inside, you'll find a beautiful old-school dining room (including many singular design touches throughout), with waiters running between table-clothed tables. Strap yourself in - because ideally, you'll be here for a while. Otto's is a place where you can easily find yourself ending up for an all-day lunch, stretching into the evening. 

roomThe downstairs room at Otto's, which you can also hire for private events. 

Where should we sit?

Upstairs is airier and lighter and maybe best for lunch (particularly if you can grab the big table by the window), but we really liked the look of the downstairs room (which also has a small bar space) and would be tempted to choose that for an evening meal. 

Onto the food - what can we expect?

It's classic French food, veering into fine dining but very generous on portion size. One of its most famous dishes is without doubt the pressed duck - aka Canard à la Presse. 

What's so special about the duck?

While we didn't actually have the duck on our visit, we sat next to a table that did - so Otto himself explained how it all works.

It's a meal that you have to order in advance because there's a lot of prep work involved. The duck is served in three parts. First up is Challans duck liver on toast - but it's the next part that's the real star. The duck is roasted and then brought out to the duck press. Otto has acquired several of these huge metal contraptions over the years, each one an antique with an impressive backstory (make sure to ask).

The carcass is placed in the press and ideally one of the diners then turns the wheel to do the pressing (the table in question didn't fancy this, so it was left to yours truly instead. You may be required to wear a Viking helmet when doing so.). The juice and blood that comes from the press is then reduced, mixed with butter and Cognac, before being served with the breast and confit duck. It's quite the show and by all accounts something to have at least once (it's £190 for two). 

And duck aside? 

The remainder of the menu is all about classic French food. Here, you'll find dishes like steak tartare (as a main), snails in garlic and butter, whole roast Bresse chicken and more. Prices are in the range of £15 odd for starters, circa £35 for mains. However, there's a lot in all these dishes as you'll see. You're definitely not going to go home hungry.

There's also plenty of table theatre involved outside of the duck - you'll see plenty of sauce pouring, flambéeing and more throughout the meal.

Here's a look at what's on the menu right now.

roomScallops baked in the shell (sealed with brioche) with lobster sauce (£18.50) - a very good example of the generous portion size. Many more scallops than you'd normally get and then drowned in lobster sauce. An absolute must.

roomMorteau sausage and French black pudding, pea puree and truffle (£14.95)

roomShaved fresh truffle, pumpkin and mushroom risotto (£26) - showcasing that just as much attention goes into the veg dishes. 

roomOne of the newer dishes on the menu - boned saddle of rabbit stuffed with veal sweetbreads and morel mushrooms (£35).

roomTournedos Rossini - Simmenthal beef fillet, seared foie gras, spinach, truffle and Madeira sauce (£45). A towering meat fest that is probably the best version of this dish we've tasted to date. 

roomOtto himself preparing the cheese plate

roomAn array of French cheese (delivered before dessert, of course, five pieces for £22)

Room for dessert?

Maybe? By this time you will have eaten a lot of food, so sharing might be the best option. Other than the below, the Baked Alaska comes highly recommended. As with everything here, it's pretty huge and, of course, is flambeed at the table. Other than that, try...

roomGrand Marnier Souffle, Raspberry Coulis (£12.50)

roomFresh Strawberries, strawberry sorbet and coulis. All flambeed at your table (of course). 

What about drinks?

Otto's is definitely a restaurant where you'll have to cancel your plans for the afternoon if you're heading there for lunch (although if you must, there's a big list of half-bottles available too).

The wine list, like the food, is all-French. Full bottles start at £33 (Côtes du Rhône 2018 Domaine Guigal) - which is not bad for a restaurant with such opulence at the heart of the menu. Heading to the upper reaches of the menu, you'll find a jereboam of Châteauneuf du Pape ‘La Crau’ 1994 Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe for £1250.

Overall thoughts

A great place to go to get over heartbreak, celebrate a new job, catch up with old mates and cement new friendships - Otto's is a London legend for a reason. Both Otto and his fellow director Elin Hansen are devoted to showing their guests a good time. Every opportunity to turn the delivery of food into a spectator (and sometimes participant) sport is seized. If there's a dish they can pour alcohol over it and set it alight, they'll do it. Even if you don't know that you need to go here, you do. And tell Otto we sent you. 

 

More about Otto's

Where is it? 182 Grays Inn Rd, London WC1X 8EW

How to book: Call 020 7713 0107 or Book online

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

Hot Dinners ate as guests of Otto's. Prices are correct at the time of writing.

 

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