Test Driving Cafe Monico - Rowley Leigh's return to brasserie life

cafe monicomain2

So what should we know about Cafe Monico?

This is the latest opening from the Soho House group. It's set on Shaftesbury Avenue where the Avalon bar/club used to be. They describe the brasserie as "Inspired by the original Cafe Monico, established nearby in 1877". So it's an all day French-style brasserie, split over two floors, with a bar downstairs.

Where should we sit?

A tricky one, this. The downstairs bar is full of snug little corners and is good for groups, but is reserved for walk-ins. To be sure of a table you'll want to be upstairs where you can dine at the upstairs bar or look out over the teaming hordes of tourists with a window seat.

And where should we meet for a drink first?

Ideally you'd want to start, perched on a stool by a corner of the bar downstairs - the cocktails are great and we particularly liked the cobbler that comes complete with its own bar snack - a mini granola bar made by the Head Chef that morning. But if you need more room head into nearby Soho or Chinatown for cocktails.

So the food, we hear Rowley Leigh is involved?

He's collaborating on the menu here and the head chef is Jason Loy who was previously at Dean Street Townhouse. The menu is standard brasserie - split into elements like bites, salumi, shellfish, eggs, salads and starters - and then there are grill dishes and daily specials and pasta.

We were looking forward to trying Rowley's famous Parmesan custard with anchovy toast, which we'd enjoyed so much at his previous restaurant Le Cafe Anglais, but maybe our expectations were too high. We weren't keen on the uber-Brevilled toast or having to lift aside a thick top before we could scoop up the still-lovely custard. But there was still plenty to enjoy on the menu here, in particular:

  • Brown crab toast - two little rounds of brown crab on toast were just the ticket to get the meal started - £5
  • Fettucine with nettles and pecorino - London's experiencing something of a pasta golden age at the moment and this was right up there with the best (£7/£13)
  • Spaghetti with tomatoes and lobster (£20) - simple, delicious and a generous serving for the price

Make sure you have the creamed tomatoes side (£3.50) which were insanely good and you'll want room for the desserts too - a daily special of salted caramel eclairs were as beautiful to look at as they were to taste and a simple, but elegant coupe de glace mixing meringue with chantilly cream and passion fruit (£6) also hit the spot.

What about the wine?

We thought this was a really decently priced wine list - particularly given its location. A glass of wine starts at £6 and there are 6-7 wines, white and red, up to £30. Our Vermentino from Mesa in Sardinia was just north of that, at £35, but was just delicious.

Overall thoughts:

Soho House have done a cracking job of creating a jewel of a restaurant in such a touristy area. Their only problem will be pitching it so that it's not overrun by the theatre crowds. We need to go back and try the insanely good set menu (£15 for two courses), and the breakfast menu - and maybe the afternoon tea menu too.

Yes, we really liked it.

Cafe Monico is at 39-45 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6LA. Find out more about Cafe Monico

Hot Dinners were invited to Cafe Monico. Prices were correct at the time of writing.