Behind Oxford Street, nestled between Grosvenor Square and Hyde Park, you will find North Audley Cantine, better known by its hipster crowd as NAC. Branded as a French bistro, NAC is from your stuffy and traditional brasserie, breathing fresh life into the stereotype by delivering contemporary cool with mouth-watering flavours.
It is a gorgeous Wednesday evening when we arrive for their dinner service, and the atmosphere is vibrantly buzzing. The terrace is filled with cocktail-sipping, handsome people and the restaurant has not an empty seat in sight. We are seated at a romantic candlelit table for two, but around us are banquets of giggling friends, high bench tables and a mezzanine which benefits from an open balcony for the perfect people-watching spot.
Once seated, we browse the sparkling cocktail list and after recommendations from our friendly waiter, we opt for two of their favourites: a Le 55 tequila medley and a Lady Grey which tantalised with aromas of vanilla, peach, violet and earl grey infused gin. Sipping on fruity notes and taking in the ambiance, I feel transported to a Lower East Side eatery in New York City, where international sophisticates, sensual low lighting and laidback jazz music are the norm.
The menu is divided into nibbles, small plates and mains, which unlike normal French bistros, permits for a sharing style feast of Franco-tapas flair. Each dish is exotic, combining distinctive flavours and textures. Our selection included perfectly piquant padron peppers with brown butter glaze, multi-coloured plant based salads, charred sweet potatoes caramelized with sesame seed-laced sticky honey and a slab of feta, iced with maple syrup and olive oil. But without a doubt, their chef d’oeuvre is the torched cauliflower: a gooey, melt in your mouth whole cauliflower, served torched brown from the outside, but like buttery heaven on the inside. I cannot wrap my head around how they transform this simple vegetable into such a mind blowing dish, and beg the waiter for the recipe…but, the magician never reveals his tricks.
The mains are just as enticing and focus on meat and fish as the game players. The cod comes drizzled in coriander pesto and garnished with thyme and tomato salsa whilst their Cajun chicken comes perfectly cooked spiced and accompanied with a side of French fries. Vive la France!
Somehow, I always manage to muster up the strength for dessert, and my friend has an appetite that matches – it takes the guilt of ordering two puddings for one! A childhood nostalgia of crushed milk chocolate cookies and peanut butter ice-cream arrives alongside our chalice of halva ice cream and banana and fig sorbet. This is not a kiddie dessert at all. The milk chocolate cookies are velvet soft and when paired on your spoon with the salty creaminess of the ice cream, you have an orgasmic situation going on.
After dinner there is the option to pop down to Mr Chow, their dark and sultry basement bar for a racy cocktail and a seat on one of their red velvet loveseats. The night can easily drift away here, and it is perfect for those wanting to prolong a dinner date and escape into the embrace of its romantic ambience.
North Audley Cantine is the perfect spot for a mid-week dinner, or a special occasion for a group of friends. It caters to all, whether fussy or allergic, and with the plethora of delicious options on the menu and varied seating choices, you could come here again and again and be blown away by its diversity and sophistication.
North Audley Cantine offers breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner and it is advisable to book in advance. For more information please visit: www.naclondon.co.uk or call 020 7493 3443