Having been invited to a friend’s birthday party in the Clapham area, my dining partner and I decided to line our stomachs at a local restaurant before joining the celebrations. I had been to Le Chardon about a year earlier and had been impressed by the classic French cuisine that was presented with flair and served with Gallic passion by the all-French waiting staff, so I was keen to feature my return visit in a restaurant review. Tucked away on a residential side street just by the south side of Clapham Common, Le Chardon has a convivial and unpretentious atmosphere. The walls are hung with artsy black and white photographs, which are available to purchase should you take a particular fancy to them.
As we perused the menu, my dining partner and I tucked into some complimentary olives, which were small but succulent and intensely flavoured with garlic, chilli and rosemary. To start, we decided to share a large serving of snails served with garlic and herb butter. Although a little tricky to extract from their shells with the traditional French tools, the snails were well worth the effort – satisfyingly chewy with a subtle, earthy flavour and dripping with the rich, vivid green garlic butter. We also appreciated the accompanying mini bread rolls that were offered to mop up the remaining butter.
My main course of Barbary duck breast glazed with orange and honey sauce and served with caramelised apples was a little lacking in terms of presentation as it seemed to be swimming in (as opposed to glazed with) the sauce and was garnished with an unwieldy sprig of parsley – the same garnish that had adorned our snail starter and my dining partner’s roast poussin main. What my main course lacked in looks it certainly made up for in taste though – the enormous duck breast was tender with a beautiful meaty taste, and the sauce was perfectly balanced between zesty orange and sweet honey flavours. We shared a side order of mixed vegetables – carrots, green beans and broccoli topped with some more of that fabulously garlicky butter – and one of gratin dauphinois. Whilst the gratin was extremely tasty, with the potatoes cooked to a pleasantly yielding texture and the sauce rich and sumptuously creamy, I was a little disappointed to find that the melted cheese topping appeared to have been made with cheddar rather than the traditional gruyere.
Dessert was without a doubt the highlight of the meal for me. My tarte tatin was brought to the table for me to watch it being flambéed with a generous glug of flaming Calvados. Not only was this great to watch, it also gave a delightfully boozy hit to what was an already delicious dessert. The pastry was competently executed, but played second fiddle to the apples, which were perfectly cooked, sweetly caramelised with just a hint of bitter burnt sugar behind them. The dish was served with a small scoop of delicately flavoured vanilla ice cream, whose contrasting temperature provided an extra delight for the senses. My dining partner’s crepes with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream went down a treat too.
Unsurprisingly, the wine list at Le Chardon is predominantly French, so my dining partner and I opted for a half bottle of a pleasingly fruity Beaujolais Villages (£13.50). On a bustling Saturday evening, the staff seemed run off their feet, with only one waiter and one runner assisting the restaurant manager. This inevitably made the service somewhat intermittent, but when it came it was unfailingly professional and friendly. Le Chardon is a member of Tastecard, offering 50% off the food (except sides) from your bill. Service is added on the full bill before the discount is taken off, but it’s still a sizeable discount on a three course meal. With the Tastecard discount, we spent £30 per head in total, which seemed like great value for a filling and delicious French feast. Despite the apparent move from fine dining to a more rustic presentation since my last visit, I’d still give Le Chardon a rather good three and a half Forks-Up.Le Chardon 32 Abbeville Road Clapham London SW4 9NG www.lechardon.co.uk T: 020 8673 9300