French Food In Britain
With over 700 million speakers worldwide, French is the fifth most spoken first language. It’s no wonder, then, that French food culture has left such a lasting impression on the world – especially in Britain. Whether it’s a traditional Sunday roast or fish and chips, British cuisine has long held a soft spot for all things Gallic. In recent years there has been an explosion of authentic French restaurants across the country, serving up pithy plates of steak frites, coq au vin and salade Niçoise. Whether you're planning a night out or looking to spice up your next home-cooked meal with some Gallic authenticity, we have you covered with this list of the best French restaurant dishes in Britain.
French Onion Soup
French onion soup is much more than a bowl of soup – it’s a true cultural icon. Traditionally served as a starter or snack, it was a favourite of 19th century Parisian workers who needed a hearty meal that would hold them over through the day. Although the hearty soup is disputed as to whether it was French or Belgian in origin, it was definitely the French who made it famous. Not only is French onion soup a hearty treat that can be enjoyed right through the winter months, but it is also an incredibly healthy meal. Aged Gruyere cheese, fresh mushrooms and a hearty beef stock make for a rich, creamy and flavour-packed soup that is perfect for a cold winter’s night. While most onion soups are served in a large communal bowl, authentic French onion soup is usually served in a large, hollowed-out sourdough loaf – giving it a rustic and hearty finish. While the French onion soup recipe may have started in Belgium, it’s the French who made it famous.
Steak Frites (Fries with steak)
As steak frites is one of the most famous French dishes, it would be a travesty not to include it on this list. The steak frites dish is simple yet incredibly flavourful and hearty, with the perfect marriage of steak and fries. Traditionally, the dish would be served with a demi-glace – a rich sauce made from reduced veal stock, peppercorns and red wine – however, it is also common to order it with a more American-style brown sauce. While the traditional steak frites recipe would call for the meat to be cut into thin slices, the English way of serving it is more reminiscent of a traditional schnitzel. As the English are famous for their fries, it is imperative to order them with your steak frites – usually in the form of ‘pommes frites’, or chips. British fries are thick and have a very different texture to the thin French fries. One popular way to enjoy steak frites is to order it ‘saignant’, which means rare – this way, the meat is still nice and pink in the middle, but the outside is properly seared and crisp.
Coq au Vin (Chicken in a wine sauce)
Coq au vin is a traditional French stew, made from braising chicken thighs in a rich red wine sauce, along with mushrooms and onions, until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced to a delicious, thick glaze. The dish was originally created in medieval times as a way to use up old, tough rooster meat, and has been a popular French stew ever since. Traditionally, coq au vin is served with a side of baguette or pappardelle pasta to sop up the delicious sauce, and a green salad on the side to balance out the richness of the meal. While the traditional recipe would call for you to use old rooster meat, the modern interpretation of the dish is typically made with chicken thighs – which are fattier and juicier than rooster meat, but still have a very similar taste. For the best coq au vin, you’ll want to braise the chicken thighs in a combination of red wine, herbs and spices, and then let the sauce reduce until it reaches a thick, sticky consistency.
The Niçoise salad is a classic French salad that is most often associated with the city of Nice. Traditionally, the salad would be served in a large bowl and include tuna, green beans, olives, eggs, and several different types of fresh herbs, all tossed in a light dressing.
The salad is said to have been invented in the early 20th century by a local chef named W. E. Grimond, in an attempt to use up all the excess produce from the city’s markets. For a classic French Niçoise salad, you’ll want to include green beans, tuna, eggs, tomatoes, black olives and cucumbers, all tossed in a light vinaigrette dressing.
The best way to make the salad is to use a large salad bowl, and then arrange the ingredients with the tuna at the bottom, followed by the green beans, cucumbers, olives and eggs, and then finish off with the tomatoes on top. Traditionally, the salad would be served without lettuce, however, you can add it if you want a heartier salad.
Beef tongue is one of the lesser known dishes on this list, however, it is incredibly flavourful and delicious. Traditionally eaten as a hearty Sunday lunch dish, tongue was a popular meal among 18th and 19th century farmers as it is an excellent source of protein and was easy to keep.
The dish was very popular in Great Britain until the mid-20th century when it fell out of favour, but has recently seen a revival in authentic French restaurants across the country.
There are two ways to prepare tongue: braised or boiled. The braised version of tongue requires little preparation and is ready in about 2 hours, while the boiled version takes about 4 hours to prepare.
If you’re looking for a hearty meal that is full of flavour and easy to cook, consider trying tongue as a roast or braised on your next Sunday lunch.
Veal escalope, or escalope de veau in French, is a traditional French veal dish very similar to a veal escalope omelette. The dish is made by slicing veal, coating it in a mixture of eggs and Parmesan cheese, and then frying it in butter until it is crispy on both sides. The best way to serve the dish is with a side of potatoes and vegetables, and a drizzle of a light sauce like Hollandaise.
While the dish is simple and easy to make, the key is to use high-quality veal. Veal escalope is a very popular dish in France, and is often served as a starter or as a main course for a light meal. While it’s definitely not the most common French dish served in the UK, veal escalope is a simple and easy dish that is perfect for anyone looking to experiment with French cooking but doesn’t want to get too complicated.
There is no meal that is more synonymous with French cooking than beef Bourguignon. Traditionally, the stew is made with cubes of beef, red wine, mushrooms, a variety of herbs and a hearty amount of bacon. The dish is a perfect winter warmer and is best enjoyed with a side of creamy mashed potatoes or a side salad. Despite the luxurious ingredients, making a traditional beef Bourguignon is surprisingly easy and only takes a few hours to prepare. The most important thing is to let the stew simmer on a low heat for a few hours to allow the flavours to marry and infuse the meat with rich, hearty flavours. If you’re looking to impress guests or treat yourself to a rich and hearty stew, beef Bourguignon is an excellent option.
You might be surprised to learn that snails are eaten all over the world, but few dishes seem more French than a plate of steamed, garlic-infused snails served with a side of butter. If you haven’t tried escargot before, don’t be put off by the strange appearance or the taste – these little critters are surprisingly sweet and mild. Make sure you dip them in the accompanying butter to fully appreciate their delicious flavour. While escargot is a French classic, it is also extremely nutritious – it’s a great source of protein, high in fibre and low in fat. If you’re looking to make a healthier version, you can steam or boil the snails and add them to a salad or even a sandwich.
Croissant Pastry with Cream and Fruit
This classic French pastry is made of a buttery, flaky, layered pastry filled with sweet, gooey cream and topped with fresh fruit. This is not something you want to miss out on when you’re at the French restaurant. A croissant is meant to be eaten when it’s fresh out of the oven – and the ones served at authentic French restaurants are often still warm. There are many variations of the classic croissant recipe, but when it comes down to it, the best French croissants are those made with care and attention to detail. Traditionally served with coffee. If you’re not a coffee drinker, don’t worry. A good French restaurant will have plenty of options to choose from. You can also order a croissant with cream and fruit to be served cold – many people prefer this version, especially on a hot day.
What is it with French cuisine and baked goods? Take the next step up from the classic croissant and you have the croque monsieur. This warm, melty sandwich is made up of a thick slice of sandwich bread filled with gooey cheese and a side of creamy, rich bechamel sauce (it’s very similar to the white sauce often served with shepherd’s pie). A melty, indulgent delight – it’s a great dish for sharing. A true croque monsieur is made with authentic French béchamel sauce and topped with grated gruyère cheese (French cheddar is a good substitute). The sandwich is usually tied together with string or wrapped in a cloth napkin to hold it all together while it warms through.
The French have a rich culinary history that spans centuries, and that history is richly reflected in the dishes served in the country’s restaurants. From steak frites to croque monsieur, the staples of French food are varied, hearty, and rich in flavour. Whether you’re looking to indulge in a classic dish or try something new, there’s no better place to get your fill of authentic French food than at a real, authentic restaurant.