This review was written before the onset of coronavirus – some dishes may no longer appear on the menu. The restaurant remains open and has launched a new service Maison Patron, delivering handmade freshly prepared dishes to your door. The owners are also opening a sister restaurant in Highbury on August 14.
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a little bit obsessed with all things French. My wardrobe is predictably stuffed with breton stripes (though I’m still waiting to be described as chic), French words always subconsciously sneak their way into my writing, and I’m still forever moaning about the ordeal of setting up a bank account in l’Hexagone. And then there’s the cuisine – fresh baguettes on the daily, soupe à l’oignon (otherwise known as a mouthwatering pot of melted cheese) and countless delicious forms of potatoes (the highlights being dauphinoise, truffade and the classic frites), all accompanied by carafes of crisp wine. So why do I live in London? I’m still working on that one but in the meantime, there are a few places that indulge my French alter-ego, one of which is a stylish bistro in North London.
Patron Cave à Manger transforms the Kentish Town environs into a French neighbourhood. With half-length curtains separating you from the street, and sheltering you from typical drizzling English weather, the restaurant exudes a sense of exclusivity. You may recognise the owners, Jean-François Pioc and Tanzi Ellison (and their bilingual dog Pippin of course), as previous patrons of the successful Café Gourmand in Soho.
The intimate restaurant transports you into a 1920s Parisian bar, with jazz music accompanying the delightful service and high-quality food. The bistro is tout à fait French with rustic wooden tables and a winding booth-style sofa in the dining area while the charming marble topped bar with high stools is ideal for those who fancy a quick rendezvous and a verre de vin or two. Exposed brick walls behind the bar give the place a rustic charm, enhanced by the wooden floors and candle-lit tables; the soft lighting fitting for such an intimate setting.
The à la carte menu has an array of small plates perfect for a light bite (think smoked duck breast and boquerones), while the four or five main dishes displayed on the blackboard change seasonally – the open-style kitchen sources all its produce from local independent suppliers. We started the evening by ordering an apéritif in the form of a classic Kir Royale, arriving at our table within minutes in quaint coupe glasses, making us feel sophisticated as ever.
Drawn to all things fromage-related, our table quickly became its very own cheese board, even more rapidly disappearing into our happy stomachs. The baked Saint Marcellin, made with cow’s milk in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, is both smooth and creamy, a melt in the mouth dipping-style cheese accompanied by fresh artisanal bread and a perfect dollop of apricot chilli jam. Crack the rind with a slice of fresh crusty baguette and watch in awe as it bubbles over its terracotta pot, convincing you to order another within minutes – we keep the menu on hand for when we inevitably want more. If you’re after cheese in its simplest form then tuck in to the slivers of the truffle pecorino with rosemary crackers.
If you’re not a cheese fanatic like myself, Patron also has a range of gorgeous starters which include salmon tartare mixed with lemon zests, chives and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds, and sizzling padrón peppers presented on a hot plate chargrilled to perfection.
On a bustling Friday night, the waiter took time to explain each main to us, from its origins to its unique flavours. We weren’t embarrassed to go full classic French, ordering moules marinière and tender duck confit with two sides of perfectly crisp fries – one truffled and another topped with aioli. Then there’s the wine list, which favours natural, organic and biodynamic labels. We enjoyed the Domaine Huber-Verderau Meursault En Dressolles from Burgundy, a refreshing oaky-style Chardonnay, and the Chateau Le Pradey from Sainte-Croix-du-Mont in Bordeaux, a sweet white wine blend of sémillon and sauvignon blanc ideal alongside desserts or charcuterie boards.
The sweet dénouement to our meal came in the artistic form of a strawberry macaron, paired with a shot of strawberry and mint prosecco, and a juicy strawberry alongside the rosé-tinted confection. Meanwhile, the vanilla crème brûlée was sublime, marrying a crunchy caramelised sugar shell with a suitably soft and creamy custard filling. On a separate visit, we went down the savoury route and tried their adventurous onion variation, an inspiring twist on the classic French dessert which certainly pays off. Crème brûlée custodians will be happy to know that the burnt-sugar topping remains, only the custard is replaced by a mousse-like filling of caramelised onion.
So if, like me, you regularly find yourself craving a night on the town French-style then look no further than Patron Cave à Manger. Bon appétit mes amis!