Angelus is a French restaurant and lounge in London. It’s a couple of minutes’ walk from Lancaster Gate Underground station.
“Can I offer you a glass of Champagne, or maybe red wine?” asks Thierry Tomasin once I’ve settled at a corner table in his restaurant in central London.
When I choose sparkling water he looks somewhat nonplussed. Sheepishly, I mention I’m normally a fan of red wines. He reminds me I’m here to enjoy myself and suggests a glass of slightly peppery red wine, based on syrah grapes. He’s forthright yet charming; I’ll give the wine a go.
After all, Thierry knows a thing or two about wine. He was the head sommelier at Le Gavroche then the restaurant manager at Aubergine. In 1996, aged 26, he became the youngest person to be distinguished as a Master of Culinary Arts by the Academy of Culinary Arts and has served as chairman of Britain’s Association of Sommeliers.
French style, English substance
The vibe here, for lunch, is refined yet relaxed. The walls bear Art Nouveau paintings and mirrors with sweeping frames. I sink back into a comfy, burgundy coloured, leather banquette and take in the restaurant’s innate Frenchness. Dark wood conveys atmosphere and warmth, hinting at the premises previous incarnation as a pub; one which Winston Churchill visited long before Angelus opened on 22 August 2007.
Angelus’s lunchtime menu looks good value but, instead, I’m tempted by the à la carte options. The latter features duck liver crème brûlée, served with caramelised almonds, poppy seeds plus toasted prune and Armagnac bread; the closest Angelus comes to a signature dish and one of the starters. I’m in a French restaurant and find it impossible to look beyond the pan-fried Aylesbury farm snails, Dorset black garlic, crisply grilled baby beetroots, chicken wing confit and fried frogs legs served in breadcrumbs. It’s practically France on a plate and delicious.
Seasonal à la carte menus
The à la carte menus are seasonal, changing every six weeks or so. For my main course the Wagyu beef fillet appeals, yet so too does the Pyrenean lamb. After dithering, I decide on the saddle of rabbit wrapped in pancetta served with braised leeks, linguine plus a hint of black truffle and jus. It’s satisfyingly big on flavour. The meat is gorgeously tender while the pancetta adds a delicate crispness.
I’m no longer hungry but the flavours and careful presentation of the two dishes I’ve chosen so far have persuaded me it’ll be worthwhile staying on for a dessert. What’s more, I’m enjoying watching the charming, sassy manner with which Thierry and his colleague Olivier interact with guests. The Black Forest gateau strikes me as a tad too Teutonic and I’m won over by prune d’Agen soufflé served with rum and raisin ice cream, which is worth the inevitable wait.
Talking to Thierry Tomasin
After dining I take a look downstairs in the private dining room, which offers a view into the glass-fronted wine cellar stocking a number of notable vintages. I then ask Thierry for a chat in the lounge, at the back of Angelus, where an array of empty wine bottles from leading chateaux add to the décor.
“I’m not doing anything here, I’m just coming and enjoying myself and my life…I’m not a waiter or whatever; I’m just a salesman of pleasure. People come here to have a good time. I think they should forget the mobile phone for 30 minutes, two hours, five hours or whatever. People should enjoy the good food or a glass of wine and c’est la vie; that’s how it should be,” he enthuses.
“Instead of going to France come to Angelus! You’re in the middle of London, not Parisian je ne se quoi but more south of France. Voilà. We’re open all day long. That, to me, is what it’s all about. If you fancy something to eat at ten in the morning or eleven at night, or three in the afternoon – a coffee, a glass of wine, ten course or just an egg Benedict – then welcome to us, seven days a week,” he says with conviction.
Chic, fresh and informal
“I loved to bits what I did before; 12 years at Le Gavroche and five years at Aubergine. But I wanted to do something less formal but still chic and serving fresh produce. Most importantly, you can have whatever you want, spend however much you want and dress the way you like” he says, of Angelus.
Thierry likes to offer wine that’s value for money but adds, “I‘m not in the Salvation Army, I’m in business. However, I want people to drink wine and not charge a ridiculous amount of money. Consumers have access to the internet and they know the prices of the wine. I want them coming to Angelus and enjoying themselves and then to buy the same wine, probably cheaper, and drink it at home.”
A native of Toulouse, Thierry has lived in the UK for 25 years and loves the country but is critical of high rate of value added tax (20 per cent) on wine in served in restaurants, which he sees as a disincentive to drinking it.
Sex in a glass
“Of course I have my favourite. However, as a professional it wouldn’t be fair to say if I like a region or country; it might not be the taste of my customer and the most important to me is my customer. However, I love Burgundy. Burgundy, I think, is sex in a glass. But that’s just my taste,” he says with a smile.
“85 per cent of the wine list is French because our identity is French, with French cooking but British produce. I don’t know why we should go abroad and buy when we have absolutely fantastic produce on our doorstep. We know where we’re coming from. We don’t pretend to be the best restaurant in the world. We serve fresh food and try as much as we can to make you happy, so that you have a smile on your face when you open the door to go, so that you say ‘I can’t wait to come back.’”
“You can come and have whatever you like with whoever you want; we don’t see, we don’t hear. It can be pleasure, it can be business, it can be seven days a week. Just come and relax…Chill out, have a nice bottle of wine and a good laugh… voilà,” he says effusively.
To see Thierry at work, as much as the food, is a reason to book a table at Angelus.
Angelus is at 4 Bathurst Street, London, W2 2SD. Reserve online or by calling +44 (0) 20 7402 0083. Outdoor seating is an option in fine weather and cocktails are served in the lounge. The restaurant’s chef’s table seats up to six guests. The set lunch at Angelus is served from noon until 6pm, seven days a week. The menu changes weekly, on Wednesdays.
See the Visit London website for information on things to do and see in the British capital.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography, which specialises in travel, food and portrait photos. Call 07947 587136 to commission a shoot.
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