Charming Tastebuds with French Gusto
07 December 2013
Claiming to be the only French menu in London that’s entirely halal, La Sophia is a family-run restaurant in Notting Hill which opened in 2010. Head chef, Ali, boasts an impressive CV having worked at the iconic Ottolenghi, as well as top restaurants across the globe from as far flung as France and Tel Aviv to Canada, not to mention working alongside world-class Michelin chefs, Chris Galvin and the infamous Gordon Ramsay. I was excited, therefore, to experience the workings of his magic at La Sophia.
The restaurant is nuzzled among Golborne Road’s well-known bric-a-brac stores and cafes, so sits in a lively part of town by day. After dark however, things are somewhat quieter and perhaps not the most obvious spot to stumble across an idyllic fine-dining experience such as this. Understated and non-pretentious, stepping through the doors at La Sophia transported me to a cosy, authentic setting that is filled with character and Middle Eastern charm. I was greeted with candle-lit tables and gentle background music, providing an ideal romantic setting without any ugly clichés. My Sunday evening visit was on the quieter side of things however, so I’d recommend giving Friday or Saturday night a bash to see her in all her glory.
While there, I was treated to La Sophia’s taster menu. Starters ranged from £6.75 to a not–so-modest £13.95. The varied selection will please most, with Escargot for those who fancy sampling the more daring side of traditional French cuisine. I opted for the Jerusalem artichoke soup with roasted shallots and white truffle oil which was a creamy delight; though rich, it served as a manageable portion. Bread was extra but not needed, as the soup had great texture and was relatively filling for a first course. I was shown an international wine list, starting from £17.95 for a French Sauvignon Blanc, which I opted for – not the cheapest but very good wine and worth the extra pennies.
For the main, I threw caution to the wind and tried rabbit for the very first time. I wasn’t disappointed as I sampled the immaculately presented and beautifully cooked Rabbit Crown, served with a delicious potato dauphinoise and asparagus. The additional touch of sweet, crispy onion was also a firm favourite. If I was to criticise anything, I felt the main dishes could have been slightly hotter in temperature. I definitely saved the best till last with the crispy skin sea bass which was juicy, full of flavour and served with quinoa and a lemon buerre blanc. Prices range from £12.75 for an aubergine, ratatouille and goat cheese dish (unfortunately, the only vegetarian main course on the menu) to £21.95 for the very tempting flame-grilled rib-eye steak.
The dessert menu included an assortment of sorbets (£5.50), marinated pineapple with coconut sorbet (£5.50), and a selection of French and British cheeses (£9). After much deliberation, I chose the Apple Tarte Tatin (£7) which was served with vanilla ice cream. After the rich sauces of the main course, this fruity option was a welcome palette cleanser. The sweet caramelised apple was perfectly moist, although the base was slightly tough and challenging to get a fork through. Their delectable warm chocolate fondant (£5.50), again served with vanilla ice cream, went down a treat with a perfectly oozing chocolate centre.
Waiters here are friendly, welcoming and attentive without being intrusive. Paying a little extra at La Sophia is not so difficult when they tick all the boxes in terms of going the extra mile; wine glasses are always topped up, water refilled and plates cleared away promptly. Although slightly pricier than your average, you get what you pay for in terms of overall experience: a stylish restaurant without the usual stiffness.
French halal restaurants of this calibre are few and far between in London, a gap in the market that La Sophia has managed to fill with elegant application. Here, the chefs make world class contemporary French-Mediterranean cuisine both appealing and accessible to the wider community. Reinventing traditional French dishes with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern twists, it is La Sophia’s modesty that makes this restaurant so inviting. I’d certainly go back again tomorrow if I could.
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