La Reserve in Ranelagh is a French restaurant that fits the model for good seasonal food. I'd arranged to meet my old friends Donnell and Alison there, who were just back from France.
It seemed to me to be a good choice for a couple of reasons: first, they still had the taste of French food in their mouths and La Reserve is very French; and second, the last time Donnell and I ate together it was in a place called La Reserve.
The Reserve that we ate in last February is to be found in Beaulieu, which is on the Cote d'Azur. It has much to recommend it, for example two Michelin stars, and also it's Michael Winner's favourite restaurant -- which may, or may not, be a nod in its favour.
It's a restaurant that I also like -- the quiet elegance, the sea views, the portly sommelier.
However, the Ranelagh version has no sea views and is aimed at a very much more casual customer. In fact, it calls itself a brasserie, which is the French equivalent of a trattoria. That's a place less formal than a restaurant and with a simpler menu and wine list.
Naturally, it was raining that evening and I got caught in a heavy downpour, which meant that I arrived soaked through. Donnell arrived shortly after, well protected from the weather with a rain coat. If only I'd been as provident.
He was alone; Alison was to join us later.
The menu is decidedly French, the kind of menu that you'd find all over provincial France. There were enough dishes listed to make choosing a job of a few minutes.
Donnell decided to begin with garlic prawns and followed that with hake, while I decided to go classically French, starting with French onion soup and following that with coq au vin.
Donnell picked up the wine list and, after a while, selected a Macon Lugny called Les Charmes. That suited me just fine, as I've long believed that it's a good idea to choose wines that come from the same region as the dish you're eating.
In my case, that was Burgundy, and, later, we discovered that the chef in La Reserve is also Burgundian.
Some good sourdough bread arrived and we nibbled on that with an olive-oil dip until the starters arrived.
Donnell had a half dozen large tiger prawns, which were simply done -- pan-fried and flavoured with garlic.
My soup was traditionally served in a white 'marmite' and I thought it was well-done; the onions well caramelised, a good beef stock and a taste of reduced wine.
In all, a good start to the meal.
The mains arrived, Donnell's plate replete with three pieces of hake, while I was handed a small cast-iron casserole dish with my coq au vin and a cast-iron flat with a creamy mashed potato.
Donnell's fish was nicely cooked -- it was just at the point where it was cooked and still firm -- and he also had a small flat of beans cooked with almonds, which were very tasty.
What I liked about my dish was that the chicken pieces had a taste.
Not long after we'd finished our mains, Alison joined us at last, just in time for desserts. Well, all she wanted was the cheese plate -- it was Donnell and I who went for desserts.
We chose a creme brulee from the menu and a chocolate fondant, which was one of the daily specials. At this point, we met the chef.
When I was a young fellow, it was normal practice for a chef to come out of his kitchen and do a brief tour of the diners, asking if all had been well with the meal.
Like the national anthem at the end of a film, I can remember that it happened, but not when it stopped.
These days, it's rare for a chef to come out of the kitchen, but when it happens I like to see it. The chef is Jerome Fernandes, a young chef with an impressive CV.
After he went back into the kitchen, our desserts arrived. Both of them were good enough, but neither of them were the high points of the meal.
To accompany the desserts, Donnell had chosen a very tasty dessert wine called Tariquet from the Pyrenees, which I really enjoyed.
What La Reserve does well are the hearty, full-flavoured dishes of the French regions. The service is very good, but I'd suggest that booking is essential as the dining room is very small, seating a maximum of 24 people inside.
It's possible to eat more cheaply on the Ranelagh strip, but I thought there was value to be had based on the quality of the cooking.
The wine list, too, is fairly priced, with plenty of wines available by the glass.