Patron, Cave à Manger
Venture further along from Kentish Town station and you'll find Patron, a classic French bistro. A stylish black exterior with iconic Parisian wicker chairs makes the restaurant feel like it ought to be in a much more lively and up-market location than standing slightly out of place amongst its dull, grey surroundings. It's a stark contrast from the run-down 'tool-hire' shop and local co-op, as Patron oozes cool from the inside but perhaps not from the out. Once inside, guests are greeted with glints of shining silverware and glasses standing out against dark walls, dark blue leather chairs, the sound of romantic accordions music fills the air and I soon let myself relax knowing I'd be in the hands of the gastronomic French.
The restaurant serves a variety of Parisian classics such as green garlic escargots, frog legs in garlic and parsley and steak tartare amongst the starters that reflect their commitment to providing London with some of France's most-loved dishes. On the day that we were dining for a relaxed Saturday lunch, the main courses on offer proved to be five very powerful contenders; skate, duck confit, 8oz onglet steak, boudin noir and moules marinières. All mains are served with a choice of one of their sides. The very humble size of the main course menu did not worry my guest and I as a potential flaw in what the restaurant had to offer. Instead, it turned out to demonstrate the need to keep things simple. By choosing to limit the number of main courses to five dishes, all varying in preparation and taste, Patron have succeeded in creating a menu that they have been able to perfect and as they should be, are very proud of.
I think it's fair to say that the phrase 'less is more' certainly applies here and works in their favour too. We began with frogs legs in garlic and parsley and the green garlic escargots. The farm-bred frogs produced some very meaty legs, (stocky even), which were tender in bite and very juicy. Drizzled with some lemon, these were an excellent choice for an entrée as they were not too filling or overpowering in flavour. To accompany, we tried the green garlic escargots. The novelty of eating escargots may have derived more from the fact that we were eating snails rather than for the splendour of taste. However, escargots are not generally known for being packed with flavour, hence why the support of delicious additions such as garlic and butter is generously applied to help boost taste. The green garlic infused buttery pool that kept the escargots nice and soft went turned out to be a match made in heaven with the fresh bread on hand. Two lovely choices of starters, but I think the steak tartare or onion soup rather than the escargots may have shown off more of the skill and talent that is hiding their kitchen.
For mains, my guest chose the skate with a side of green beans and I had to have the duck confit with gratin dauphinois. In terms of taste and texture, the mains were on another league to the starters. This doesn't mean to say that the starters were not good, the mains were just indescribably outstanding. My duck confit had a sweet and smoky glaze upon its slightly crispy skin. There was so much succulent and tasty meat that fell off the bone as you tucked in. Duck can often be oily or greasy but they'd skilfully dodged this bullet and the duck formed an excellent bond with the gratin dauphinois. The light creaminess of the potatoes and sauce in this side dish balanced out the slight sweetness of the crispy glaze to give a really moreish mouthful.
The skate was cooked beautifully and like the duck, gave so much delicate, soft meat. Both the duck and fish were fresh and as my mother commented whilst eating the skate, it had a real 'melt in the mouth texture'. The green bean sides that are cooked and then re-cooked again in garlic were much appreciated for their hint of crunchiness and seductive buttery and garlic flavours; a combination that the French know best and should always stick to.
The dessert options were a classic range of warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, cafe gourmand, creme brûlée, hazelnut ice cream and tiramisu martini. My mother adores the Cafe Gourmand which is a classic french dessert that includes three mini desserts with a coffee. A perfectly-portioned size of warm chocolate brownie arrived with requested hazelnut ice cream in lieu of the vanilla, creme brûlée and a cappuccino. The Tiramisu Martini went down a treat with these three small delights that I watched being prepared in the kitchen by the three young chefs who were happy to invite me in for a chat. The kitchen window is left open for guests to peer in and leave their comments with the friendly chefs; always a good indication of honesty to its customers.
This is a restaurant that deserves a setting as magnificent as its food. A big French community is thriving in North London and brings in a lot of its customers. It may seem obvious, but I think there's another reason underlying the fact that their French neighbourhood compatriots make up most of their clientele. I can't speak for other nationalities, but Brits are certainly guilty of covertly looking for any excuse to channel some of France's effortless chic. I think it's time we stopped trying to emulate French chic when dining out at up-market British Pubs by eating spinoffs of classic French dishes such as coq-au-vin or a sad-looking steak and chips. You'll pay a similar price here to what many of London's more up-market pubs in North London charge; so why not try the the original versions of what British pubs are serving? Patron proves to Londoners that we need to give in to our coveted love of French food by eating it the way it should always be eaten, at an authentic French restaurant.
Patron, Cave à Manger, Fortress Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 2HB
Tel: +44 207 813 2540
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