It might seem odd kicking off a piece about a French chef’s new London restaurant by mentioning Jamie Oliver, but when a popular and talented chef crosses the channel to open a slick and modern restaurant and bar the Naked Chef - like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon – is somehow in the background.
The most obvious example is Greg Marchand, a protégé of Oliver, who successfully took his Rue du Nile Frenchie restaurant to Covent Garden in 2016, a restaurant that bears the nickname given to him by Oliver.
With Bar des Prés, which recently opened on the former site of the sadly too short-lived Indian Accent on Mayfair’s Albermarle Street, Cyril Lignac is taking a similar path, and Oliver’s shadow once again looms large (in his early cooking years he was even dubbed the French Jamie Oliver). Like Oliver, Lignac is one of his home country’s best-known chefs with book sales topping four million and numerous TV shows under his belt, including ones where he tackled school dinners. In his early days as a chef he also headed up a restaurant called Le Quinzième (the Fifteenth), to further encourage calls of copycatting.
But this is where the comparisons end. Bar des Prés is a more grown up restaurant than anything from Oliver’s former empire and is an evolution of the original Bar des Prés, the Franco/east Asian restaurant that Lignac opened in November of 2016 in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Like the original, the 100-cover Mayfair restaurant, which is split across two floors, has a strong seafood focus, with sashimi, sushi, California and maki rolls prepared on view at the counter kitchen. Here the menu stays true to the Parisian original, with California rolls including those of Red Label salmon, avocado, jalapeno, and sriracha; and spring roll, king crab with vegetables, mango, mint, and maki rolls of yellowtail with yuzu kosho; and spicy tuna tartare appearing on both.
Some other of Lignac’s beautifully crafted dished have crossed the channel in their original form, most notably his crunchy crab and avocado galette (pictured), a delicate crisp wafer topped with thinly sliced avocadoes that hides a creamy madras curry crab beneath.
Said dish is a good example of Lignac’s precise and aesthetic cooking style that has its origins in the chef’s early career. Born in southern France, his first professional qualifications were as a patissier, ice-cream maker and chocolatier, working with chefs including Alain Passard and Pierre Hermé.
Where the two restaurants differ, and why the London iteration is billed as something of an evolution, is with the latter half of the menu. In Paris the original intention was to serve only raw food, and this approach remains largely intact to this day, although a smattering of half-cooked dishes, including half-cooked salmon, ponzu, grilled sesame oil and ginger; and half-cooked chu-toro tuna with jalapeño, crispy radish and stick potatoes now appear as part of the main ‘to share’ section.
For London Lignac has strayed from the original brief – presumably on the basis that les rosbifs tend to expect some form of ‘cooking’ when having dinner – with the menu featuring a ‘leaves, crispy & hot’ section as well as one entitled ‘land & sea’ alongside the ‘raw & marinated’ option. Dishes here are no less refined, with a langoustine ravioli served in a rich and silky ponzu broth and lightly breaded ‘volaille de landes’ chicken with sriracha mayonnaise. Every dish tried displayed not only expert execution but very high-quality ingredient sourcing.
Dessert, meanwhile, references Lignac’s patisserie background, with classics including chouquettes with chantily cream and hot chocolate sauce; red berry pavlova; chocolate souffle; a raspberry tartlette with Sicilian pistachio ice cream; and a vanilla mille-feuille with pecan nut praline (pictured) that is the match of any high-end patisserie’s in the capital.
Bar de Pres is Lignac’s fourth restaurant, joining his three Paris venues Le Chardenoux – a seafood-focused restaurant set in an ornate 100-year old dining room – as well as the smaller and more intimate bar restaurant Aux Pres and Le Bar des Prés. Cocktail bar Dragon as well as chocolaterie and patisserie businesses are also part of his impressive portfolio.
And then there’s his next project, a restaurant due to open this summer that will represent Lignac’s his personal vision of Italy’s gastronomy. The restaurant will be located on the former Le Quinzième site, finally putting to bed at least one of the past comparisons to Jamie. And before you say anything, it’s going to be called Ischia, not Cyril’s Italian.