Bandol: a love letter to the South of France

Bandol is the kind of place that would immediately spring to mind if asked to recommend a classy West London date venue, the kind that’ll get you laid without making you look like a pretentious wanker.

Bandol Chelsea Hollywood Road

To start with, it looks like something off of Apartment Therapy, all whitewashed brickwork and soft lighting, the kind that has people cooing like idiots as they come through the door (me included). I was especially taken by the shiny copper counters and matching pendant lights, and rushed home afterwards to browse copper bed frames online as the clapped out divan provided by my landlord had recently collapsed.

Bandol Hollywood Road Chelsea Copper bar

(Unfortunately, I quickly realised that copper beds can get a bit Bedknobs and Broomsticks without Bandol’s white wishbone wooden chairs, big Victorian windows and inside/outside greenery, so I soon gave up and bought a boring old wooden one from Warren Evans.)

Photograph courtesy of Steve Joyce, who probably had a significantly better camera, pro-photography skills and better lighting to work with!
Photograph courtesy of Steve Joyce, who had a significantly better camera, pro-photography skills and better lighting to work with!

Bandol, which is named after the southeastern province of France known especially for its wine and seafood, is designed to feel like a pocket of laid back, al fresco dining in the depths of Chelsea. (I say depths – it’s a 15 minute walk from the nearest tube.) There’s an ivy-covered wall at the back, and a giant olive tree in the center of the dining room. At night, it’s a dreamy, romantic space; just the thing for an anniversary or special date. Pro tip: wear sensible shoes for that walk.

This easy breezy French Med theme continues into the menu, which lists its dishes chiefly as sharing plates. The cynic in me always suspects the concept of ‘sharing’ in restaurants was designed to get punters ordering an extra starter or two, and, indeed, each of the sharers we tried was easily large enough to be a starter for one. (Not that you would do that, of course; it’s terribly unfashionable these days to keep an entree to yourself.  Joey Tribbiani would be throwing a fit.)

We began with the Salted Cod Croquettes, the star buy of the night at £6.50. Half a dozen battered balls with a piquant, vinegary fennel salad that provided the perfect counterpoint to the nubbins of salty, flaky fish, cocooned in light, golden breadcrumbs.

Bandol restaurant salt cod croquettes Hollywood Road Chelsea

We also ordered the Petite Friture de Poisson (£11) – a pile of fried prawns, whitebait and baby squid – which was relatively unremarkable save for the homemade aioli that came with it, which was rich and garlicky with that subtle ‘real egg’ flavour you can never get in a jar. (Would it be uncouth to order it alongside a portion of French fries? Surely not.)

Bandol restaurant Hollywood Road Chelsea Petite Friture de Poisson

Our third and final dish from the sharing menu was the Veal Carpaccio, which although eye-wateringly expensive at £15 was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten this year. Think of it not as food but an experience: barely-there strips of veal, like the delicate tissue paper you find in fancy lingerie boxes, enveloped in cream and – oh! – black truffle dressing, strewn with rocket and wafer-thin shavings of Parmesan.

Bandol restaurant Hollywood Road Chelsea veal carpaccio

It was – as you can imagine – sensationally rich, and probably would have done better alongside a salad than the deep-fried seafood. My fault, not theirs.

Bandol restaurant Hollywood Road Chelsea Rack of LambNext came Mike’s Rack of Lamb (£29) and my Braised Rabbit (£18.50). The lamb is the purist’s choice: tender, pink meat cooked flawlessly, but it doesn’t pack the same pow! as the rabbit, so for a tenner less I’d say Bugs is the better option. It’s a perfectly balanced comfort food, served in its own little casserole dish, achieving a heartiness through its succulent meat but smartly sidestepping any cloying richness with a light, almost broth-like gravy, seasonal vegetables and girolles. It was perfect.

Bandol restaurant Hollywood Road Chelsea Braised Rabbit

I couldn’t manage a proper pudding, though I did have a spoonful of Mike’s delectable Gateau du Chocolat (£8.00), served with raspberry sorbet and topped with fresh ones.

Bandol restaurant Hollywood Road Chelsea Gateau de Chocolat

I considered the highly recommended Milk Fondant with Caramelised Figs (£8.00) and outlandishly expensive sorbet selection (£7.00!?!), but in the end plumped for a wedge of Bleu des Basques (£3.50), a thick-veined blue sheep’s cheese.

I generally find there’s always room for cheese.

Bandol restaurant Hollywood Road Chelsea blue cheese

We visited Bandol for its press evening, though a quick tot-up revealed our bill would have come in at a hair under £100 including two sides (not pictured), plus service and drinks. Wine starts at a not-unreasonable £25 a bottle, and there’s a good selection by the glass for less committed drinkers. For most people, Bandol isn’t a casual Tuesday night kind of place, but for a special and/or romantic occasion, it’s a solid choice.

Bandol, 6 Hollywood Road, London, SW10 9HU

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Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.