There’s a special kind of magic when a group of people gather around a table – all the way from a humble cup of tea, through to intricate tasting menus that titillate the palates. Soutine is elegantly in the middle, a Parisien corner of Salon de thé, a St John’s Wood restaurant in a glorious period building. Disclaimer: We were invited guests of the newly opened Soutine but as ever, all dreamy pastel metaphors are very much my own.
We gathered, a group of four expats – talking of life, love and kettles (long hilarious story) over a table filled with delectable dishes.
I’m going to drop my excuses in here now (did you know that excuses is the French word for apologies? Well, according to a hasty Google translate anyway) and say that the light was rather tricky for photography, without hopping on a chair and disturbing the other diners.
As soon as you walk in, it feels as though you’re transported to a French bistro – no Eurostar or Airport queues necessary – just a hop skip and a jump from the Jubilee Line.
Chaïm Soutine, the namesake of the restaurant, is a French painter originally from Lithuania, one of the most eminent representatives of the School of Paris and a major contribution to the Expressionist movement. The greatest collection of his paintings are gathered in one of my favourite Parisian museums, L’Orangerie, alongside Monet’s infamous Waterlillies.
“In creating a restaurant for St John’s Wood it was important to look at the area and its history. St John’s Wood has always been the home to many artists – from Landseer, Alma-Tadema & Tissot through to Nevinson, Craxton, Minto & Freud – not forgetting the all-important Calderon. Now his particular importance stems from him being the founder of St John’s Wood Art School in 1878 which was notable because it embraced Female Artists at a time when it was not generally accepted that a woman would ever chose art as an activity outside the home, let alone as a career. This led to the ‘St John’s Wood Clique’ of artists in 1910 and I must admit I could imagine them going to Soutine… if it had existed.” Jeremy King.
The night that we sidled in, a Tuesday I think, it was full of locals excitedly enjoying the menu full of French classics (and dishes with the occasional Lithuanian/Russian twist in honour of Monsieur Soutine.) As part of the Corbin and King group – with restaurant titles like the Wolseley, the Delaunay and Fischer’s in the fold – we definitely had high expectations.
Did we enjoy it? Well, from the rich Soupe à l’Oignon, to the whole Globe artichoke and the Prestige de Clare Oysters, there wasn’t a morsel left on our hors d’oeuvres plates.
Then, a feast appeared at our palms – a perfectly seasoned mains portion of steak tartare for me, steak frites et salade and bernaise, and a hearty serving of confit de canard on a bed of lentils across the table.
They lasted on our plates almost as long as the wine in our glasses did – as necessary a condiment as mayonnaise and side salads.
The front room is an all-day dining cafe (with a bar counter seating 15), with the more traditional restaurant at the back where we sat and chatted the evening away.
It was the perfect escape.
We were talked into desserts (by talked I mean our waiter presented us with menus and we were tempted into ordering); the salted caramel eclair, the gorgeously rich black forest Gateau that was shared and a selection of Macaron across the table – a few of which journeyed home with us thanks to the rich fare beforehand.
NW8, you’re very lucky to have Soutine! We rather enjoyed our meal at the newest St John’s Wood restaurant, and I can definitely see a repeat on the cards.Soutine
What’s your favourite classic French dish?
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