It was a night that would test even the most devoted Londoner. The combination of torrential rain, bitter cold, a tube strike, overcrowded buses, a global pandemic and the imminent ever-real threat of having to come up with a child’s costume for World Book Day did not, it is fair to say, create a relaxing ambience. It was the sort of night that would have had even lifelong fans of the capital - say Virginia Woolf, Samuel Pepys, Michael Caine and Stormzy - looking on Rightmove for a new build in the provinces. It was a night that, frankly, would have had Paddington on the first flight back to Peru.
However, at the end of a long commute on foot, opposite the Royal Academy, just down from the Burlington Arcade, is Richoux, a restaurant that has, in one form or another, been serving British-accented French food and patriotic afternoon tea to Londoners since 1909. It has recently reopened under the stewardship of Jamie Butler (pastry) and Lewis Spencer (savoury) who have worked in some of the country’s finest kitchens including Moor Hall, L’Enclume, Davies & Brook and Le Manoir Aux Quatre Sainsons. They have decided to revive the brand - and refocus it. Gone is the generic geriatric tea room vibe. Instead, the interiors feel like pseudo Soho House - dimly lit, overstuffed banquettes, quiet, important conversations over strong drinks.
What is also good is the menu has been refined. No longer the grab bag of international favourites (“Colonial chicken curry”, fish and chips, beef stroganoff have all thankfully been struck off). It is not a particularly adventurous selection but it is also perfectly suited to those taking refuge from the cold with a Croque Monsieur. This is about approachable, easy, bistro food done right: basically consider it really good room service, without the hotel attached.
A Classique cocktail started things off in promising fashion - Tanqueray 10, vermouth, Chambord, bitters - followed by a glass of Sancerre paired with three tangy fingers of warm Welsh Rarebit. A non-ironic prawn cocktail was served without a stem glass but with a heavy shake of paprika and was all the better for it. The duck, watermelon and cashew salad was dressed in homemade hoisin - zingy, bright and a touch chewy. Steaks tended more towards the British than the French style but accompanied by exemplary frites and a dollop of bearnaise all was forgiven. Salmon a la Plancha with pickled cucumber looked good and grilled chicken paillard with gremolata also seemed worth investigating. Desserts, particularly a divine tarte tatin, are a delight.
The wine list keeps it close to home with a selection of French classics, although with diligence there are gems (notably the low intervention Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage 'Sans Sulfites' and the rarely seen single variety of Domaine Roux Bourgogne Aligote). Service is friendly and staff are keen. Afternoon tea and new breakfast menus are on the way. Until then console yourself that Jamie Butler has introduced ‘Cruffins’ (a kissing cousin of Dominique Ansel's "cronut") with appropriately modish flavours (sea salt and caramelised white chocolate custard). One hopes that as Butler and Spencer find their feet in their new environment, they will add further dishes to this menu and really put their stamp on the site. This could be somewhere really special - even on the night of the next tube strike.