High 5: Places to make you feel like you’re in France – when you’re actually in London
In June 2012, Axelle Lemaire was voted in as the first French MP for Northern Europe. With an estimated 300,000-400,000 French people living in our capital alone, it’s hardly surprising that there was felt to be a need for one. According to the BBC, London is now France’s sixth biggest city in terms of population. But this is not a new thing. Travelling around the city you’ll come across all sorts of street names inspired by our cross-Channel friends: Petty France, Beauchamp Place and Montpelier Square, to name but a few and, to this day, you’ll often hear French spoken around you – especially if you know where to listen.
Forget you’ve just escaped the mass of tourists taking photos of Eros at Piccadilly Circus and it’s hard to believe you’re not in France. A huge, bustling brasserie reminiscent of many in Paris – the delightful Terminus Nord, for example – serving delicious French classics. The menu’s in French unless you specifically ask for a translation – in which case it comes, rather pointedly, with an American flag in the corner. There’s a set menu for under £10 a head, comprising a vegetable starter and steak haché. Fantastique.
Part of the French Institute – or L’Institut Français, as you’re likely to hear it called on these streets – this French cinema was reopened in 2009 by Catherine Deneuve and places an emphasis on French, European and World Cinema. Showing classics as well as new films, the cinema has a full programme of screenings, plus a number of film festivals, throughout the year. From buying your ticket to finding your seat, this place is French from the outset – and that’s before the film’s even started.
Affectionately known as ‘Frog Alley’, Bute Street in South Kensington is lined with shops and cafés which will appeal to the most discerning Francophile. Copies of Ici Londres and London Macadam take the place of freebies City AM and TNT in street-side stands and, whilst reading Le Monde in café Raison d’Etre, or Bonne Bouche, you’ll hear the babble of French students overflowing from the nearby lycée. Then, fuelled by a café au lait, browse the tremendously-French (the name gives this away) French Bookshop which stockpiles everything from bestsellers and B.D. (bande dessinée, or graphic novels) to Clairefontaine stationery.
Eurostar Terminus, St Pancras International
Adding ‘International’ to the end of railway station names seems to be the done thing when the Eurostar comes to town. First, there was Ashford International and then there was Ebsfleet and St Pancras. Since the station’s refurbishment, it’s become a swish place to hang out as you wait for your Eurostar. With a familiarly-continental jingle at the start of each tannoy announcement, and the additions of Paris Nord and Bruxelles Midi to the departures board (making Bedford, Corby and the like seem very second rate), you feel the holiday’s started before you’ve even boarded the train.
With its two-tone wicker chairs, dark green canvas blinds and Art Nouveau-style signs, the Crémerie Crêperie on Exhibition Road in South Kensington is a tranche of French living within West London. The menu’s extensive with crêpes (both savoury and sweet), salads and ice creams, and there’s the option to have galettes with buckwheat, too. Wash these down with traditional Bréton cider, sitting out on the pavement, watching the world go by.
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