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What's the deal?
A few years ago, François O’Neill had big plans. The restaurateur (who helped launch Isabel in Mayfair and Casa Cruz in Notting Hill) was going to open a smart but unpretentious brasserie in central London. It seemed like he had a winning formula: a promising young chef in the form of ex-Masterchef finalist Matthew Ryle; a storied site in St. James’s, with double-height ceilings and beloved former tenants (smart-set staple Green’s restaurant); and maestro front of house Ed Wyand, who cut his teeth at Mayfair’s famous seafood purveyor Scott’s.
It was all looking good, apart from one snag: it was set to launch in May 2020, a month after a pandemic ravaged the globe. But the show must go on, and the opening date was pushed to September. Now, three years later, Maison Francois is already a London classic – a place beloved by the in-the-know, who cultishly buy MF-branded merch (t-shirts emblazoned with the words “Paris-brest”; caps adorned with the restaurant logo) and rave to anyone who will listen about the pâté en croûte. Frank’s – as the more recently-opened basement bar is called – cemented Maison Francois’ status as a meeting place for the city’s Instagram elite, where they go to indulge in a half dozen oysters and a notoriously stiff martini.
So, what’s new? Well, following on from the success of their dessert trolley (a classic contraption holding several pastry-studded drawers that gets wheeled out at the end of each meal), they’ve just launched a steak tartare trolley, which will allow diners to customise the dish to their liking as it’s prepared a la table. They’re also doing a Sunday lunch series called Dimanche a la Maison, inspired by the French tradition of long, leisurely weekend lunches.
But these new offerings are all just window dressing on what’s already a near-faultless restaurant. The food – unapologetically Gallic, the menu composed of familiar standbys with untranslated French names – is always outstanding. The atmosphere, heightened by luxe interiors that marry classic brasserie details with industrial-inflected modernity, is buzzing most nights. The service is impeccable – discreet but friendly, each server practised in the art of appearing as soon as they are needed. It’s impossible to have a bad night at Maison Francois: a single visit immediately converts any diner into a rabid fanboy. Go – we defy you to resist buying a hat afterwards.
What should I eat?
At Maison Francois, a little amuse bouche is always in order. The comté gougères – classic cheese puffs from Burgundy – are the ultimate pre-dinner bites. Little choux orbs filled with sharp, rich comté custard, they have the same cheese-bomb effect of a Cheez-It.
The pâté en croûte hardly needs an introduction. This cult dish comes in thick slices, layered headily with fatty meats and a blanket of jelly. A side of crisp mini-cornichons offset the instant gout.
For the veggies, the raviole du Dauphiné are thick, oblong dumplings stuffed with comté and fromage blanc, piled on a pool of cheesy, sinus-tickling black pepper sauce.
Why should I go?
To experience a new London classic. And be seen with the city’s upper crust.
34 Duke Street St James's, St. James's, London SW1Y 6DF