Tales of snails and squid Bolognese at Koffmann's at the Berkeley

Emily Rookwood on one of London's last remaining bastions of simple, excellent French food

With the closure of Racine a few months ago, I have been rather lamenting the lack of gutsy, supremely well-cooked, honest French food in London. I must admit that in that moment, Koffmann's had slipped my mind. That won't happen again.

Having retired from the kitchen only to find that he missed it too much, Pierre Koffmann opened his restaurant underneath The Berkeley in Knightsbridge. He isn't trying for Michelin stars, he just wants to cook, but when a former three-Michelin-star chef steps into the kitchen you will never get anything less than formidable cooking.

He and his wife, Claire, run such a wonderful spot – friendly, smart but not formal and with a cracking menu (and an incredibly good value lunch).

Growing up, I would often sit right next to my dad whenever he was eating snails to mop up the garlic butter with anything I could find, as soon as he was too busy chewing to notice a little hand going in to steal all the good bits from the bottom of the dish.

I always found the snails themselves gritty and tough but just as I have learnt to appreciate offal and all the other things little children find revolting, I have come to really enjoy snails.

The snail croquettes at Koffmann's are great, pungently garlicky balls, fried to a beautiful golden crisp and sitting in a rich red wine sauce. They're probably not great if you have a meeting or a date later, but for garlic lovers they are incredible.

Pistachio souffl’ at Koffmann's at the Berkeley Hotel

Pictured above: Pistachio souffl’ with ice-cream

The signature squid Bolognese is a much-loved dish for very good reason. Delicate strips of squid take the place of the pasta and are dressed in a beautiful light Bolognese-style sauce created from finely diced squid, tomato and white wine. It is light, fresh and tastes strongly of the sea – a lovely (and clever) variation on a traditional dish.

Had I not been heading out for a huge steak dinner later that night I would have ordered much more from the menu, but these two dishes alone showed how good the food here is. The menu is accessible and straightforward and the room, although subterranean, is light and welcoming. I heartily recommend it and would go back in a flash.

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