50 Marylebone High Street, W1U 5HN
Cost per person without wine: £36
YOU might assume – I think I did – that Marylebone High Street is hardly in need of another place mixing dining and café culture. But the crowd packed into the recently opened, Belgian-owned Café Luc last Tuesday evening suggested otherwise – and after eating there I’m inclined to agree with them. Café Luc can sit happily alongside Tintin, Johnny Halliday, statues of micturating babies and waffles on the list of Belgium’s cultural accomplishments. In fact it beats those easily (apart from Tintin, but that might just be me).
It’s been launched by Julie van Oostend and her dad Luc. Actually Café Luc is not particularly Belgian in style – there isn’t a waffle to be seen on the menu – so much as broadly continental. Well, French anyway. It’s tres chic in the traditional style of a grand brasserie – creamy pistachio tones, shaded lamps on the walls and cosy leather banquettes with long, low mirrors running above them. There’s a copper-topped bar, above which hangs an abundance of yellow, blown-glass bulbs that seem both old-world and smartly modern, which is the general idea.
I went for dinner, but being a brasserie Café Luc is open from breakfast, when you can get a full English or go continental. There’s also a lengthy brunch menu, including most of the breakfast options as well as more fulsome offerings like steak tartare, salads and risotto right up to lemon sole, fillet of red mullet or chicken supreme. The variety of beguiling dishes on offer – come lunchtime, add onglet steak with shallots, moules marinieres, duck confit and braised lamb to the list – is impressive, assuming they can all be turned out with the same level of skill and care.
Those qualities were noticeably present in the dinner I was served. I started out with brown shrimp croquettes – a couple of crusty croquettes filled with luscious prawn meat in a sweet, oozy sauce. I could have eaten these all night, frankly, but that would have denied me the pleasure of Carbonnades Flamandes a la Duvel – beef stew in Belgian Duvel beer. This was terrific – large, meltingly soft chunks of beef swimming in a thick, velvety gravy. Big, bold, rustic food that would be easy to get wrong – how often does one order casserole and stew dishes at such places, only to be served meat that’s leathery and tough? – but was satisfyingly right, and good value at £13.20.
There are some much pricier options – Dover sole will set you back £28, a red mullet fillet £19.50 and a fillet of Scottish beef £27 – but Café Luc doesn’t seem bad value. At £12.50, my dining partner’s moules marinieres were another option for those fancying an evening that’s lighter on the wallet, and there was no scrimping on portions. A towering pile of gleaming grey shells arrived, cooked properly in white wine with shallots and parsley, and accompanied by a no-less-towering pile of crisp-as-you-like frites. Perfect stuff.
Score one more foodie hit for Marylebone High Street, then