You can’t have it all; not every dream is realised. Here’s one I have: I’m walking in the Paris dusk and, as I do the Elvis leg to extinguish a cigarette — in my dreamland, it is the city of d’you-have-a-light? — I notice a bistro glowing in the gloom. The food is good, the wine is better; neither is a fortune. But of course this can never happen, because instead Paris heaves with restaurants that make me wish I’d paid more attention in my French classes, if only so I might more efficiently insult the owners. C’est la vie.
It doesn’t mean I don’t try with Paris; Eurostar beckons, trips are taken and disappointments collected. But I suspect my days of chucking back warm glasses of M&S chenin blanc in the Channel Tunnel are over. What would be the point? Last week I found out Fitzrovia has thoroughly outfoxed the French. Although, let’s be clear, Le Beaujolais off Charing Cross Road has long had their wine bars licked.
64 Goodge Street is a black-fronted bistro, only the brass numbers glinting in the light. The whole thing looks as sleek as a Lincoln limousine. It has about the same proportions inside, too — a long and narrow room, complete with its own partition screen of corrugated glass. The details you’d want are mostly all present and correct: low jazz, walls and leather in Berwick green, floors of oak and terracotta, smart chairs with rattan backs. There are dividing café curtains that in an emergency might double as aprons for the waiters; there is an enormous, carved armoire in which they might hide from especially obnoxious guests.
On the other hand, never has there been a place so in need of tablecloths, and the anachronistic artex ceiling is a baffling choice, ditto the paper doilies. And it’s helpful that the lights are as low as moonlight, so the room feels sexy, because the tables are spaced only about an Amex apart. Still, it is one of those restaurants that could be recommended to anyone, knowing they’d nod appreciatively at its style and gentle glamour, after which you’d knit your fingers behind your head and feel Anna Wintour-ish.
They’d nod appreciatively, too, at the food — though granted all boundaries remain firmly unpushed. This is old-fashioned French stuff, plain and simple. It just happens to have been executed almost flawlessly. It’s there in the gougère that arrives for all on the house, with black truffle all through the centre, so surprisingly light that perhaps the enormous scraggle of shaved comté on top is there to play paperweight. “It’s very Darroze-like,” says my pal, acknowledging the quality. “Whatever,” I say, misty-eyed.
The Woodhead Restaurant Group, owners here — recognisable from the Quality Chop House and Clipstone — say they’re serving French cooking “from an outsider’s perspective”. That outsider is chef Stuart Andrew, a Woodhead day one-er, with it since 2015. He strikes me as an especially attentive outsider, and a deft one too.
Bons bons balanced on egg cups came teeming with bacon and snails diced as to be indistinguishable from each other, a clever touch that’s good for prissy sorts suspicious of l’escargot. Pillowy scallops with caramel tops played brightly against the earth of lentils and by-design richness of a beurre blanc. Richness — or what’s more unkindly called heaviness — could be a concern here, but the short menu still has its options. A starlingly bright salad niçoise humbly dropped tuna in favour of rabbit, at which point I began to drift off into thoughts of sunlit picnics and bottles of white Burgundy.
Granted, said drift didn’t require an enormous stretch, given the carafe beside me (chablis from Moreau Naudet). The wine list, 64 says, “does have a focus on Burgundy”, which sounds oddly like an admission of guilt for a line that could be (correctly) read as “we only have the good stuff”. Woodhead co-founder is Will Lander, son of master of wine Jancis Robinson. Evidently, the grape doesn’t fall far from the vine.
When what could be London’s finest lobster arrived, swimming through a sauce Américaine, there were soon considerations of selling the flat and moving into the wardrobe with the waiters. In an otherwise unblemished meal, and despite its accompanying, triumphant Lyonnaise sausage, only squab pigeon coated in a bloody, bitingly salty sauce and made too sticky with a suspected fig gave us a moment of pause. That is, until we considered the presumed rent on the armoire. This is not a cheap place. Even without a full bottle or coffees, and just a single scoop of ice cream for pudding, the bill smartly skipped past the £200 mark. So I found my dream, I just can’t afford it. You can’t have it all. Mais bien sur.
64 Goodge Street, W1T 4NF. Meal for two including drinks and service, about £220. Open Monday to Saturday, noon–2.30pm and 6pm–around midnight (last booking 9.45pm); 64goodgestreet.co.uk