Tucked away in a dark alleyway in Knightsbridge, Chabrot Bistrot d'Amis is a hidden gem serving top quality, classic French food. Kerstin Kühn reports
Chabrot's not the easiest restaurant to find. The street name, Knightsbridge Green, is misleading to say the least, referring not to a bucolic avenue but instead a tiny little alleyway that's easily missed if you're no Knightsbridge local. But once found, Chabrot is a little gateway to France.
Housed in what was once the Red Pepper Café, the restaurant is named after the traditional Dordogne ritual of "faire Chabrot" which became popular during the food shortages in the Second World War, where wine is poured into an almost finished bowl of soup and enthusiastically lapped up.
A joint venture between four French friends, the 65-seat restaurant is the brainchild of chef Thierry Laborde, wine expert Philippe Messy, restaurant manager Yann Chevris and florist Pascal Lavorel.
"We'd been talking about opening a restaurant for years and then we opened this little French bistro, which is quite unusual for London," says Laborde. Having worked with Alain Ducasse in Monaco and at Le Gavroche and L'Oranger in London, he heads up the tiny kitchen, while front of house is managed by Chevris, whose CV includes Michelin-starred London restaurants Nahm, Nobu and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
But despite their pedigree, Chabrot has no fine-dining aspirations. Instead it's a classic French bistro in the simplest and most authentic sense of the word. Spread over two floors, it's small and demure with all the cheesy bistro features you might expect to find somewhere on the outskirts of Paris - from stripey linen tablecloths to classic bentwood chairs, black and white photographs of French rural scenes and a big mirror listing the handwritten, daily specials.
The unashamed simplicity also carries through to the menu. "It's all about seasonality and good ingredients that are cooked simply," says Laborde. "I have a very small kitchen and we're just five chefs. We have a plancha and a grill, that's it. There's no jus on the menu, just lots of olive oil."
The menu is divided into hot and cold small eats served when ready; main courses; sharing dishes; and cheeses and desserts. Among the starters are snails in parsley butter (£8.50); warm duck liver pâté served with Comte cheese gougères (£8.50); and a selection of charcuterie from Basque artisan supplier Maison Meyté (£12.50).
The plancha means there's a focus on seafood and fishy starters including grilled sardines, served cold with basil, croutons and white grapes (£6.50); and moreish crispy baby squid from Cornwall, served simply with salt and esplette pepper (£7). Among the main courses is wild seabass with a sea salt crust baked whole and served with raw fennel salad (£29.50); next to classics such as a 45-day aged sirloin with beurre Maitre d'hôtel (£34.50).
One of the most popular main courses and a Laborde signature dish is chicken stuffed with foie gras to share (£52). The chef stuffs the bird with about 450-500g of foie gras before roasting it in the oven. It is served with country bread and seasonal vegetables and is enough for up to three diners to share.
The desserts continue in like vein. There's a gateau de Marie chocolate cake crusted with sesame seeds and served with confiture de lait (£5); and Laborde's take on a rum baba, baba Gersois (£6.50). "It's not made with rum but dipped in syrup and then customers choose their own Armagnac to go with it," he explains.
Last, but not least, the wine list has been created by Messy, whose extensive selection showcases few vintages from outside France. It's mainly focused on the regions of Côte du Rhone and Burgundy, with a few big names from Bordeaux thrown in for good measure.
Chabrot may not be the obvious choice for Knightsbridge, it may stand in the shadow of the big names housed in nearby five-star hotels, but it's a hidden gem that offers a true taste of a French bistro. And it doesn't get much better than this.
Sample dishes from the menu
Finely sliced raw beef, truffle dressing £11.50
Bone marrow £6.50
Asparagus, vinaigrette, hard boiled egg £9.50
Thin slice of grilled veal, sage and rosemary £18
Home made pasta with fresh morels £17.50
Lamb chops from Quercy, aubergine, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts £26.50
Three French farmhouse cheeses £9.50
Crème brûlée £5.50
Gariguettes strawberries served and whipped cream £7.50
9 Knightsbridge Green, London SW1X 7QL
020 7225 2238