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Tuesday, 21 December 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Café Luc


Marylebone High Street is undoubtedly one of the prettiest addresses in London (despite its proximity to hectic Oxford Street). Providores, the Conran Shop, Rococo Chocolates, Divertimenti, Cucina Caldesi and La Fromagerie, just around the corner, are some of the places I love to visit whenever I am in the area.


I would have probably missed Café Luc in one of these trips had I not been invited by Massey Travel for a meal there this summer. Since my first visit, I have had the chance to return to this Belgian brasserie a number of times with friends, so this is a round-up of the five or so meals I had there this year.

French resident chef David Collard, former executive head chef at five star Langham Hotel, has worked with other top chefs including Joel Robuchon at Restaurant Gormand, Marcus Waring at Petrus and Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park. I had the pleasure of meeting David on a couple of occasions, and more recently he showed me around his kitchen and demonstrated how he prepares one of Café Luc’s signature dishes – Steak Tartare.


Growing up in Brazil, I used to love eating kibbeh nayyeh (raw minced beef or lamb mixed with bulghur wheat, and seasoned with onions, mint and olive oil) in the many Syrian restaurants there, so I am a real fan of the European equivalent of this loved dish – “Steak Tartare”.


Café Luc’s did not disappoint – the meat, a 21-day dry aged LMC ("leg of mutton cut") of beef supplied by Finclass Butchers, was ultra fresh, silken and well seasoned with onions, mustard and capers among other spices. I really loved this dish but felt that the texture could have been slightly improved had the meat been finely chopped as opposed to minced. At £7.50 for a starter portion (£17 as a main), I also thought it was rather well priced.

Another excellent à la carte starter was the “Crab Tian” @ £10.50 – a beautifully presented dish made of Cornish crab with avocado, tomato dressing and quail egg which I enjoyed on two of my visits.

One of my favourite à la carte main courses was the “Roasted Partridge” served with caramelised chicory, foie gras and truffle shavings and @ £18.50, it was again very good value.

The “Chicken in Champagne” served with wild mushrooms, diced bacon and papparedelle pasta @ £16.80 (apparently one of David’s family recipes) had a deliciously creamy sauce and earthy flavours from the mushrooms which combined well with the pasta and grilled chicken.

(Picture Courtesy of The Wine Sleuth)

Two of the most popular desserts are the "Roasted Pineapple" @ £7 served with coconut sorbet and pistachio, and the "Apple Tart" @ £6.50 with caramel and Grand Marnier sauce.


It is Café Luc’s excellent value 3-course menu @ £15.50 however where David’s resourcefulness and cooking flair come into their own. In my opinion, this is one of the best value set menus in London at the moment - the menu changes regularly and is available throughout the day (as opposed to pre/post theatre menus available elsewhere).

Some of the highlight dishes that I had from the set menu included:

"Fine smoked salmon, English crumpet and horseradish cream"

"Terrine of duck confit with foie gras and served with toasted sourdough"

"Pea risotto with aged Parmesan, and wild rocket"

"Steak with peppercorn sauce and pommes frites"

"Crème Brulée au Nutella"

"Lemon tarte with raspberries and chantilly"

The wine list is primarily old world and rather comprehensive with a large number of bottles also available by the glass or carafe. Of the entire wine menu, there are only two bottles priced below £20 (at £18.50), and despite some of the wines being available on tap, I still felt that the mark up was slightly excessive (the cheapest 500ml carafe on tap was priced at £15.30).

On my first visit, the sommelier suggested a bottle of 08 Patrimonio by Domaine Leccia. Patrimonio was Corsica’s first Appellation region (AOC), where the native “Nieluccio” varietal is used. The wine was terrific with black fruit (cherries) and vanilla aromas, full bodied and with great complexity but sadly a price tag to match.

Service at Café Luc can be inconsistent – I have had the most attentive service there (both as an invited reviewer and as an anonymous paying customer) but there was more than one occasion when I felt it was a tad rushed and impersonal.

Cafe Luc is offering a set menu for £1 for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner. There are 15 3-course set menus available per day for the period of Friday 7th January until 7th February 2011. To find out when to book – subscribe to their mailing list, Facebook page or follow them on Twitter (@CafeLuc_)

Thanks to Massey Travel for introducing me to Cafe Luc.

Cost: the set menu is priced at £15.50 while the à la carte menu would cost around £35 for a 3-course meal (excl. drinks).

Likes: the Patrimonio Corsican wine was excellent (although expensive), as were the crab tian, steak tartare and Nutella crème brulée. The set menu @ £15.50 is in my opinion excellent value.

Dislikes: inconsistent service and a wine list with very few affordable options.

Verdict: well executed cooking, prime location and and a reasonably priced set menu make Café Luc an attractive lunch/dinner option on Marylebone High Street. Recommended.

Cafe Luc on Urbanspoon

16 comments:

  1. I thought it was the effects of wine from my nonstop xmas lunch and dinner that I read £1 set menus. The meals look lovely, I think you just helped me add a new place to eat when I am next in Marylebone high street!

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  2. Despite been to Marylebone High Street a couple of times, I've not been to Cafe Luc. From the looks of it, the 'cafe' in its name is somewhat misleading, isn't it? But I must say that the chicken in Champagne and Steak Tartare look fabulous. Thanks for the intro!

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  3. I'm hoping to get some of that £1 meal action! I also had a lovely breakfast at Cafe Luc and took advantage of the fact they have a bike concierge.

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  4. Set the camera to artificial light. If you must photograph your food, it looks better when not orange

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  5. @ Kay - so glad to meet you on Sunday, thanks for your comment, and hope you get to try their sales set meals!

    @ London Chow - the food prices are pretty much cafe/brasserie prices, but unfortunately not the wines. I thoroughly recommend it though.

    @ Greedy Diva - I know, I loved your post. We missed you this Sunday!


    @ Anonymous - I am not a professional photographer, I am an investment banker. If you must leave a comment, be kind, or otherwise don't read my blog.

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  6. Hi Luiz, thanks for the recommendation!
    The pictures are fine. We can see the food, texture and in focus! Location photography is never easy for a professional armed with proper kit, let alone for a non-professional. Keep up the good work! Happy Christmas ! Hope to meet you in 2011. Feliz Natal!!
    r_mc10

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  7. @ Rosana - Obrigado Ro, que legal ver outros Brazucas aqui na site! Tenha um otimo Natal, e certamente vamos nos encontrar em 2011!

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  8. Hi Luiz,
    I think you´d be hard pressed to find a good bottle of wine on a restaurant list for less then 20 quid, esp in Marylebone. If you go to Providores down the street, their cheapest wine, whether you order it in the restaurant or in the tapas room, is 26 pounds. And their carafes which are only 400 mls, start at over 15 quid. So I think Cafe Luc´s prices are in line with the neighbourhood. While it is true you can get wine for less then a 20 in a pub, in a nice restaurant, in Central London, I don´t think it´s gonna happen. Unless you BYOB, which I´m a big fan of, as you know… ;)

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  9. We enjoyed reading your review very much!!
    Chef David read it with a big smile, before getting into the rush for the today lunch. It's an interesting review and we will work on the consistency of the service. Let us know when you're around.

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  10. I think there's something fundamentally wrong about a machine-minced steak tartare, the texture just wouldn't be right for me. It's a faff hand chopping it, but the results are far superior.

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  11. Interesting, I went for the last £1 offer and it was of mixed success. I am going to finish my blog post about it. The service that time was quite comical.

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  12. @ Winesleuth - I agree with you to an extent as I am sure business rates for Marylebone High Street must be terribly high. However I don't agree with your argument that because other restaurants in the area are charging high prices, so should Cafe Luc.

    As you know I love wine (I am studying it at the WSET), and drink a lot of it - I am fortunate that I can afford the occasional "treat" bottle of wine, but this is not true for a lot of people. I certainly couldn't afford to have expensive bottles of wine everytime I go out to eat. I really like Cafe Luc, don't get me wrong, but the challenge for a restaurant of this calibre in my opinion is to offer its diners the choice and opportunity to purchase good quality wines that do not cost over £20 a bottle. Any decent restaurant should have a good quality house wine that people could buy and trust it will be excellent.

    I regularly buy some good bottles priced between £5 and £7 at Majestic or Oddbins, so I struggle to understand why restaurants which have the advantage of bulk buying cannot do the same. Even if they charged three-fold (which in my opinion is still too high), there would be plenty of bottles below £20 that they could sell!

    I am not writing this advocating for a cheap wine list, but for one that can give people more affordable choices and better value, and I know this can be done. It annoys me when people say that good wine should be expensive and is this way of thinking about wine that prevents so many people from buying it.

    And by the way, I have checked Terroirs wine list online, they are based in the thick of Covent Garden, and I counted 10 bottles below £20, so well done Terroirs.

    @ Laurent - I am so pleased you have enjoyed the review Laurent, I will certainly say hello next time I pop in, give my regards to David and Julie.

    @ Lizzie - couldn't agree with you more Lizzie, hence my comment on that steak tartare paragraph.

    @ May - I have had their £1 set menu once, it was excellent. The £15.50 menus I tried were also very good. Interestingly, the a la carte is also well priced with most main courses priced around £16-£18.

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  13. I don't think I said that Cafe Luc should overcharge because it's neighbours are, I said that it was charging in line with the rest of the it's neighbours, two very different things. If you're in a chi-chi neighbourhood like Marylebone, you'd expect to pay more, it's the nature of the beast.

    I wish markups were not so high but that is the way of the restaurant business. Most restaurants do not make their money from the food,the majority comes from alcohol sales. I've worked in fine dining establishments both in the US and UK and something like 80% of profits come from alcohol sales. If you think restaurants are going to kill that cash cow, you've got another thing coming. Of course there is the argument that they have to store the wine and that causes money to be tied up in stock or that they have to have various vintages available which might not be sold on a regular basis again inadvertently causing the restaurant to "lose" money or otherwise not have the liquidity (no pun intended) available. There is also the issue of tax. The tax on a bottle of wine to enter the UK is 60% of it's value.

    At the risk of sounding elitist, I try not to order a bottle on a winelist if I know it's available for £5 or £7 in a shop.

    Most pub wines or wines that are priced less then £20 on a restaurant list, wholesale for about £2 or £3 a bottle, talk about getting ripped off! By the way, most restaurants do markups of at least 3 times for their house wines and often times for the whole list. There are places that charge less of a markup. Bob Bob Ricard springs to mind and they have a great list but it's not cheap and you won't find anything for less then £20 but they have some excellent wines. The fact is, if you want a good quality wine, you're going to have to pay.

    As for Terroirs, I'm not a fan. I visited once long ago and liked it but since then I've gone off it. And their wines are not mainstream, they are natural and of various quality. Sure you can get something for less then £20 but I'd be rather cautious. Is it going to be a thin red with bubbles, an oxidized white? Were the wines under £20 red, white, sweet? What size bottle? There is a lot more to wine then just the fact that it costs less then £20.

    I think restaurants do charge far too much for wine but as I said, that's the business.

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  14. @ Winesleuth - so you agree that restaurants charge too much for their wines but that we should just accept it as being the nature of their business? I am not sure I agree with this.

    As you say, there is much more to a bottle of wine than just the fact it costs less than £20, and I am well aware of this. I have had bottles of wine at restaurants where I paid between £40 and £60 (on very special occasions I admit) and I still felt these were well priced. I am not arguing that ALL bottles should be priced below a £20 mark, but that diners should be given more affordable and better value choices, be it on Marylebone High Street or Kingsland Road.

    Terroirs' 10 bottles of wine to which I refer above were all full bottles. I am curious to know why you now dislike Terroirs - it is one of my favourite wine bars in London. On my last visit to Brawn (Terroirs' sister restaurant) we ordered a bottle of 09 Marcillac @ £20 (Domaine du Cros, Philippe Teulier, Marcillac). We noted that the mark up on this bottle was less than twice the High Street price.

    As chartered accountant, I audited quite a few restaurants in London before I went into investment banking, and I have to disagree with your claim that restaurants do not make much of their money on their food sales. They do, or at least the good ones. I find the generally accepted argument that restaurants only make money on alcohol sales is just too convenient for the restaurant trade.

    I think we may have to agree to differ Denise, but I wonder what other people think?

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  15. There's an interesting chapter in Daniel Boulud's 'Letters To A Young Chef' about wine mark-ups, where he basically suggests that it's always been an unspoken agreement between customer and restauranteur that higher mark-ups are more acceptable on the wine list than on the food (especially mains).

    He even suggests (at least I think, as don't have my copy to hand at the moment) that it's only because of the occasional big spender, who drops $$$$ on wine in one evening, that high-end restaurants can afford to offer expensive ingredients like truffles to 'normal' diners.

    You could argue that, instead, the restaurant should split it's mark-up "fairly" between food and drink. But then you should probably go the step further and consider different types of food against each other - e.g. cheap cuts and meats (chicken, pork) and veggie dishes often subsidise the food cost of e.g. beef fillet. And dessert ingredients (flour, sugar, egg) are often way cheaper than their final dish prices (Boulud also highlights desserts as a big mark-up area on menus).

    As a meat-lover and not a huge drinker, I wouldn't be the first person to be campaigning for a levelling-out of cost-to-price ratios -- but would be interesting to know if there are any particular restaurants around that make a point of doing this (and whether consumers actually care if they do, or just accept the status quo).

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  16. Interesting debate. I agree with Jen. I am interested to know what is the mark-up that a restaurant charges on wine. It is clear that, while many have a mark-up of 3-5 fold, there are some who charge 2-3 fold or less with respect to the high-street price (of course the on-trade price will be even lower). All other things being equal, I would much rather choose a restaurant that charges me £20 for a £10 bottle of wine, than one which will palm me off with a £4 bottle at the same price.

    I think every restaurant should have a handful of red and white wines below £20. Regardless of the mark-up, why should I be forced to spend £30 on a bottle of wine just because I have a dinner in the West End? Particularly when I could probably pick it up in an off-licence for £6.

    Mr Truffle

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