Small review covering a Sunday breakfast at a small French bistro in Holloway, benefitting also from a nice garden out the back and the nearby park.
Nothing much to read, I hear you say to yourself – except that La Muse surprised my partner and I by making the comparatively mundane seem exceptional through close attention to detail and an ample portion of gallic charm. This is something I recognise quite often, but to which many Brits seem blind. Be respectful and French people are almost always charm personified, in my experience.
As it was, on a warm Sunday morning we were given a low-key but welcome reception, shown through the restaurant and out into the garden, given menus and offered drinks with flair. A good choice too, for the walled garden proved an attractive sun trap in which to relax.
A good first sign: the coffee was strong, probably stronger than many people would choose to drink it but fine for me. Perhaps they could anticipate this and bring a glass of hot water to allow for diluters, then everyone is happy. At least you can dilute strong coffee, but you can never concentrate weak coffee, so I would much sooner it be this way around.
They also brought a bottle of tap water without fuss and without trying to flog us bottled, which is a welcome sign.
The brunch menu offered lots of fascinating choices, starting with a bacon sarnie and finishing with a burger. In fact, let’s give you the full list, which is fairly priced and offers good value:
BACON SANDWICH 6.00 served on artisan bread, with a fried egg
HALLOUMI SANDWICH (V) 5.50 served on artisan bread, with a fried egg
FALAFEL SANDWICH (V) 5.50 with garlic tahini sauce
CROQUE MONSIEUR/MADAME 6.00/6.50 traditional ham, emmental & béchamel sauce/and a fried egg
PARIS TOAST (V) 7.25 crushed avocado, roasted seeds & 2 poached eggs on sourdough toast
LONDON TOAST 8.50 choice of your eggs on sourdough toast asparagus, smoked salmon
LE PETIT DÉJEUNER ANGLAIS 7.50 bacon, cumberland sausage, fried eggs, tomato, beans, mushrooms, toast & butter
LE PETIT DÉJEUNER VÉGÉTARIEN (V) 8.00 grilled asparagus, grilled halloumi, tomato, mushrooms, fried eggs, crushed avocado, toast & butter
BUBBLE and SQUEAK (V) 7.75 with poached eggs, coriander & cream sauce
EGGS BENEDICT 7.50 / EGGS FLORENTINE (V) 7.50 / EGGS ROYALE 8.00 traditional ham / sautéed baby spinach / smoked salmon poached eggs with hollandaise on English muffin
LE BURGER DE LA MUSE 8.00 6oz prime beef burger with emmental cheese & bacon
You might consider this to be France colliding with the East End via the Middle East, with the Americans stepping in at the last minute, but the very slight quirkiness seemed to us inviting. It took some while to make up our minds, but in the end she plumped for Paris Toast, despite having eaten avocados the day before; I went for the traditional bistro snack of Croque Madame, a dish I haven’t eaten in possibly 20 years.
Salad garnishes were a tad twee, but the dishes themselves were superlative breakfast fare. Her chopped avocado and tomato topped with perfectly poached eggs hit the spot, while the croque caught me completely by surprise.
Firstly, I noted two thick slices of top hole sourdough, toasted briefly but fiercely and a masterpiece in their own right. Second, the fried egg was perfect, atop a perfect cheesy béchamel. Best of all came the pearl inside the oyster: not your bland slice of processed ham but shredded home-cooked ham hock, tasty and succulent, much as cooked by Max in his ham, egg and chip sandwich (see here.)
If two small kitchens in North London can do it right, why do so many settle for tenth-rate ingredients, and why do so many consumers accept bad products? The point of restaurants is to do simple things well, which they did successfully, based on good fresh ingredients.
The bottom line is this: if you delight customers without the need to do chain-style marketing, you will win a keen following. I’m very happy to give la Muse 4.5 Millward stars out of 5 for a humble breakfast visit, to return there for a proper dinner sometime soon, and to pass on good word of mouth without being prompted (what I hate is being asked whether I would recommend a place, to which the answer is always a resounding NO!)
I sincerely hope La Muse continues with the same philosophy and great success, and I look forward to meeting them again. For the record, their dinner menu keeps up the strong tradition of proven French bistro dishes. I repeat it below for your delectation. May it never be swayed by the dictats of fashion!
Olives & Caperberries 3.00 Bread 3.50
Soupe à l’Oignon (V) 5.00
Asparagus, Poached Egg, Coriander Cream (V) 6.50
Camembert Fondue with Saucisson & Toasted Bread 6.75
Scottish King Prawns, Chorizo, Samphire 7.50
La Muse Steak Tartare 9.00
Globe Artichoke, Ratatouille, Smoke Tofu (V) 12.00
Duck Breast, Celeriac, Carrot, Plum Sauce 14.50
Seasonal Fish, Fennel Purée, Grilled Asparagus, Peas Market Price
Prime Beef Burger, Bacon & Emmental, Fries 10.00
Lamb Chop, Baby Courgette, Blackened Onion Relish 17.00
La Muse Steak Tartare, Fries 16.50
Fillet Steak with Black Pepper Crust, Fries, Red Wine Jus 20.00
Green Salad, Fries 3.00
Garlic Mushrooms, Sautéed Baby Spinach 3.25