145 Dovehouse Street, Chelsea Square, SW3 6LB
WLC Rank : 50
Glass from : £ 8.50 (175 ml)
BEST FORPremier Cru wines for the price of Villages wines
Bow tied maître d’
Fruits de mer, steak tartare, and the plat du jour
Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône
“Le Colombier is a bit like a Club with no fee,” says owner, Didier Garnier of the gleaming Chelsea Square staple with arguably the best value French-led wine list in London.
“We’re not on social media and only take bookings by phone,” advises restaurateur, Didier Garnier. Additionally, Garnier shies away from PR, and doesn’t see the need for sommeliers. “I don’t want to be told what to drink by a 25-year-old when I drank all my life!”
Located in the former Prince of Wales pub, Chelsea Square, Garnier has run the gleaming brasserie with a glamorous terrace complete with a huge pearl oyster plaque for 22 years. He previously oversaw Brasserie St. Quentin, Brompton Road from which he still receives regulars.
With the charismatic manager, Olivier Sachet, the duo nurtures a 350-bin list of “names that ring a bell” from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône. Both gentlemen have strong connections with Angers in the Loire, though met in London. “Olivier came to Brasserie St. Quentin 30 years ago as a commis waiter,” says Garnier. “My one and only employer!” responds Sachet.
Le Colombier’s list features a gentle cash margin. “We’re not a restaurant run by an accountant who sees the guest as a credit card,” says Garnier. “And we don’t want wine in the cellar – we want it on the table,” adds Sachet.
The duo is proud of their 60-strong half bottle selection which may include Figeac, Fombrauge and Beaucastel. “Hard work to get all these halves!” says Sachet. At the other end of the spectrum, Garnier likes Le Colombier to be known as “the magnum restaurant.” Big bottles range from budget Bandol (Jean-Pierre Gaussen) to the double magnum of Château Montrose.
Standard formats include Burgundy domaines, Perrot-Minot and Lucien Le Moine, as well as Bâtard-Montrachet from Boillot. From Bordeaux, Château Talbot is extremely popular. “Then we end up with the big ones,” says Garnier. “Cheval Blanc, Latour, Haut-Brion, Mouton.” Such often older finery is priced close to retail price, with an instance of Château Grillet actually being below it.
The house Champagne and core wines are imported direct, supplemented by a dozen suppliers. “As our customers are loyal to us we’re loyal to our suppliers.” Bottles are kept in the large cellar beneath the terrace meaning the restaurant can accept whole palates which they pay for promptly. “My supplier is not my bank,” says Garnier.
While Garnier, Sachet and assistant manager, Nicolas Balsalobre are happy to offer guests advice, Garnier notes, “our clientele often know our wines better than we do – they have cellars you wouldn’t believe.” On that note, guests are welcome to BYO for the corkage of a bottle of house wine. “And there’s no limit to the number of bottles they can bring,” says Sachet. “We have 25 corkage customers a week.”
French dishes are realised by two head chefs, both called Philip, and may include snails with garlic cream and puff pastry, steak tartare, grilled lobster, and Dutch veal chop with thyme, as well as Mandarine Napoléon liqueur pudding.
The wine list remains as good as it was pre-lockdown, says Garnier, and the duo are enjoying decent custom. “We can’t complain too much especially at this bad time.”
By Douglas Blyde.