Monday, 11 October 2021

P Franco, Clapton

It was a warm and pleasant evening in Clapton on Saturday. I know this because for the first 40 minutes at P Franco I was sat on a bench outside waiting for a table to come free, and had it been raining or cold I may not have stuck it out for quite so long. And believe it or not I had it relatively easy - the couple behind us waited well over an hour for their spot, nursing their glasses of chardonnay and watching on patiently as a table of 6 who had been there since god knows when steadfastedly refused to pay up and leave.

This is the problem with P Franco - it is so good, with its extensive wine list and short, attractive menu of seasonal dishes served at extremely reasonable prices, that you do just never want to leave. And with a grand total of 12 seats and no reservations policy, that very soon adds up to a perfect storm of demand far, far outstripping supply. I don't blame that table of 6 for not wanting to leave, not at all - but it does make the place incredibly difficult to recommend at normal mealtimes if the promise of a feed, however good, comes with a lead time the length of a Hollywood movie.

So what kind of food will the residents of Clapton (and elsewhere) wait so very long for? Well, things like this chicken liver toast topped with pickled blackberries, two generous portions for £10 containing ethereally light parfait and excellent lightly toasted house sourdough. Dishes like this are the reason I eat out - even the most accomplished home cook would struggle with the techniques required to produce a texture like that in a chicken liver paté, and why bother anyway when someone would make them for you for a tenner?

Just as extraordinary were these raw beef and mustard leaf wraps, the beef tasting incredible (supplied by Warren's of Cornwall, like much of the best stuff is) and the leaves acting as a nice salady vehicle for the beef as well as providing a good hit of mustard. In contrast to the cheffy chicken liver toasts, this was more of an assembly of top-tier, tastefully chosen ingredients but still with the same kind of value - just £9 for these.

Next, neat cubes of chicken thigh, skins on, crisp and golden brown, came arranged on a bed of swiss chard and all soaked in an intense, salty chicken broth. In the centre of the bowl was an egg yolk to add even more richness and texture and a handful of girolles brought a certain buttery earthiness, but really this was all about the broth, one of those complex, concentrated liquids that probably took a lot of time and a lot of very good chicken to make. If you brave the wait yourself and find yourself with a table at P Franco, I recommend you get this dish along with a portion of the house bread - you're really not going to want to miss sweeping up the very last drops of broth with some nice sourdough.

And finally, mussel, squid and crab tagliolini boasted good firm pasta, plenty of nice fresh seafood and a buttery/citrus sauce that would have been worth the price of admission by itself. At £17 this was the priciest individual dish on the menu, but was still some way off what you'd expect to pay at even a rather modest local Italian restaurant; I shudder to think what they'd want for it at the River Café.

But of course, you can book the River Café, and although that doesn't quite justify the prices there it does mean your evening out is guaranteed a certain degree of stability. P Franco serves some of the best food in East London alongside one of the best collection of wines, staff are efficient and personable and the bill at the end of it all will most likely come as rather a nice surprise (ours came to £110 for two people, but we had, er, rather a lot of wine). All these things are certainly true. But you'll have to wait for it, and as autumn turns into winter the idea of sitting sipping on chardonnay in the freezing cold for as long as it takes for a space inside to come free looks increasingly unattractive.

Oh well, I suppose there are worst things than queuing for dinner, and in the case of P Franco, it most definitely is worth the investment. Certainly, once we'd paid up and skipped happily home it was the cosy embrace of the food and service that lingered in the memory, not the uncomfortable wait to get it. Whatever your feelings on no reservations policies, on every other aspect of the restaurant business P Franco are playing an absolute blinder, and eating there - once you finally manage to eat there - is a profound joy. Good things come to those who wait.


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