By day, The French House is a très chic, family-friendly bistro, offering artisan coffee, French patisserie, cooked breakfasts and tasty tartines. Post 6pm, the lights are dimmed and the place transforms into a romantic restaurant and wine bar, where you’ll see loved-up locals tucking into oven baked Camembert with crusty French bread, sipping on the best French wine and listening to live music. But don’t be confused, this isn’t just any old French restaurant - sacré bleu! The French House is themed on the tongue-in-cheek 60/70’s French music era Yé-Yé, with music, décor and movies to match…
Moi je joue, Ne me laisse pas l'aimer… I walk into The French House to bubble-gum popping Bridget Bardot softly singing on the speaker, locals chatting over a charcuterie board and a glass of red, and babies and fluffy terriers play fighting on the floor.
Though the Yé-Yé era was colourful and camp, the décor here is simple and stylish. Seating is provided by long shabby-chic benches dressed with dried French lavender, and vintage 60’s Ye-Ye girl posters decorate the walls. There’s also a black and white French film playing on a TV. Owner and chef, Audrey O’Neil, is standing behind the long bar, which is filled with French wines and pots of chutney and jam from little French villages.
She greets me in a French accent and as we talk I can tell how passionate she is about introducing the Yé-Yé era to East Dulwich locals. She loves the cheekiness of it all, and most of the artwork she has rescued from her Grandmother’s attic. You’ll find tons of newspaper scraps and art posters in the downstairs bar, which gets very busy on the weekends.
While we talk she’s adding the finishing touches to a caramelised apple tart and the smell is just divine. She has really brought the rich flavours of Alsace, her French hometown, to The French House and she is committed to using fresh ingredients sourced from small French producers.
Tartes flambées is an Alsace speciality and one of the most popular items on the menu. It’s much like a large, crispy pizza, made from extra thin bread dough and topped with crème fraiche, smoked lardons (bacon strips) and white onions. There’s a lip-licking range of toppings available - you must try the goats cheese and lavender honey - and any dish can be made Vegetarian by substituting the lardons for champignons de Paris mushrooms.
Tartines is also a hit with hungry lunchers. It resembles a big open sandwich, made of slices of toasted pain au levain (French sourdough bread), topped with fine French cheeses and served with a tasty salad. As for the drink, all the wine is sourced directly from France and can be ordered by the bottle or glass, and the French beers are highly recommended and sourced by her husband Robbie.
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