Le Cafe du Jardin

Tel: +44 (0)20 7836 8769/
Address: 28 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7BD
Cuisine Type: European
nearest tube station Covent Garden (PICCADILLY), Leicester Square (NORTHERN, PICCADILLY)

Le Café du Jardin occupies a corner site just behind the main market of Covent Garden, yet the name is apt. The walls of the street-facing sides are made up almost entirely of windows, creating the impression of being inside a light and airy greenhouse, where the pace of life slows to a gentle crawl and the noise and pollution of the city are left firmly outside – perfect as a venue for my friend and me to be “ladies who lunch” (if only for a day).

There is a set menu at lunchtime and pre-theatre (with the likes of soup of the day or lentil salad for starter, chicken breast or salmon with risotto or chargrilled minute steak as main courses), which offers good value for the quality of cooking. However, we opted for the à la carte menu which is fairly lengthy, with a varied selection for vegetarians, fish and meat eaters alike.

Starters (£5 – £8.50) erred on the cautious side, “safe” classics designed to appeal to a wide audience: mozzarella salad, smoked salmon, vegetable soup, asparagus, seared scallops and a special of asparagus on toasted brioche with poached egg and hollandaise sauce. And while competently executed, you would have to try hard to get some of these wrong.

Main courses (£10 – £15) were more adventurous, delivered with more flair than might have been expected from our experience to this point. Both my confit leg of duck on a bed of bubble and squeak and my companion’s chicken breast on a bed of spinach were generous portions (true ladies who lunch would have baulked and then picked at the side vegetables), though both came with a suspiciously similar red sauce (variously described on the menu as a “red wine jus” for one dish and something completely different for the other). We both agreed that my duck was the better choice: as you cut through the crisped skin, yielding strands of meat literally fell off the bone. A side order of mashed potatoes was also very good.

But the highlight of the meal was dessert (all £5). Fine apple tart with caramel and sweetened cream layered wafer-thin slices of apple on buttery pastry, while my friend did not need to ask twice before I was digging my spoon into her sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and crème Anglais. We decided that we didn’t want to be ladies who lunch if your main preoccupation is calorie counting so, discarding any pretensions of delicacy and elegance, we scraped our plates clean.

A few minor gripes:
– Service charge of 15%. The service is relaxed and efficient, though not sufficiently professional and discreet to justify the higher than average mark-up.
– Rather too many dishes featured risotto. This suggests either lack of imagination in the kitchen, or that they have great vats of the stuff, waiting to be doled out.
– The set menu is good value, but doesn’t appear to change very frequently. If my memory serves me correctly, the options were similar the last time I ate here.

However, this is one of the better eateries in this area, and not too pricey for the location.

– Tracy Yam, 3/2003