A Soho institution first founded twenty-five years ago, Café Boheme, located on the corner of Old Compton Street and Greek Street, is back to its hey day thanks to a sensitive, yet thorough, renovation by Soho House. As a corner café with seats outside, it already feels like St Germain, Paris, an atmosphere further evoked by the live musicians who entertain diners every day; their evocative French jazz filling not only the restaurant but oozing onto the street to prompt passers by to smile and peep in, envious of those with a leisurely lunch ahead of them.
The fact that they serve their fixed price menu (£17 for entrée, plat, dessert & wine or beer) from 12-6.30pm is jolly handy for both the business crowd or theatre-goers, and despite choosing an unfashionable dining time, somewhere between late lunch and early dinner, I found Café Boheme almost full with merry diners, including a portly middle-aged man who was having a lie down on a bench while his family, who didn’t seem in the least bothered, continued eating.
Meanwhile, a spot at the back of the restaurant offered an experience that was delightfully voyeuristic without being intrusively noisy or crowded, ideal for a catch up with my mum-to-be thespian friend who is enjoying a break from acting (except for radio) whilst encouraging her little one’s taste in French cuisine at an early age – a very early age. Alas, his or her love of wine will have to be developed later, although for those not expecting the wine list proves excellent value with Languedoc house at £22 a bottle, scaling up gradually to account for some very palatable vintages indeed.
You can never be too young or too old to enjoy traditional French food and Café Boheme’s enticing menu is the who’s who of beloved bistro fare, from soupe a l’oignon, steak tartare, and escargot with bacon and garlic to Toulouse sausage with pommes puree, duck confit with puy lentils and beef bourguinon. Heaven. As was the freshly baked baguette with superb French butter, served by our waiter with such adept efficiency that I barely noticed it arrive, that is, until I got a waft of the aroma that pretty much fills the streets of every city in France from early morning.
A wonderfully informal dining experience that’s all about enjoying hearty and comforting cuisine without breaking the bank, my roquefort and endive salad with candied walnuts and apple was a reassuringly generous and appealing opening course regardless of its simplicity, followed by a succulent fillet of salmon served with rainbow chard and a herb dressing. Though complete without a side dish, I would advise you never to dine here without ordering a portion of daupinoise, it’s everything it should be and will save you hurrying off to plan your next trip to Paris (unless it does the opposite).
If that doesn’t the delectable crème brulee, with its fine caramelised sugar top concealing the richest set vanilla custard imaginable, almost certainly will. So many restaurants try and fail to conjure up our memories of France, but fortunately this place reeks of both garlic and charm, reminding us precisely why we fell in love with this glorious fare in the first place. Like Puccini’s romantic Parisian-set opera, Café Boheme really sings to me and will surely become a regular pre or post-theatre venue of mine. Perhaps, if my friend has a girl, she will even name her Mimi.
Café Boheme, 13 Old Compton Street, London W1D 5JQ. Serving food all day including breakfast. For more information and reservations please visit the website.