Where can the French population of north London go to feel at home?
- Credit: Polly Hancock
According to some, London is now France’s 6th city (depending on which figures you use, the French population in London is as much as 300,000 putting it slightly ahead of Bordeaux, Nantes and Strasbourg).
Many of the recent emigrants have eschewed the traditional Petit France in South Kensington and are now choosing to settle in north London.
Research by estate agents Savills shows that 35 per cent of properties in Hampstead and the surrounding areas under the £1 million mark sell to Western European buyers from outside the UK, and other agents have reported a steep increase in French clients since the Collège Français Bilingue de Londres opened in Kentish Town in 2011.
So, what can these new residents do locally to stave off homesickness? And where can Francophiles head to soak up a little of that je ne sais quoi?
Where to eat
Despite London’s improving culinary reputation, French people can remain a little snooty about the food on offer in the capital.
Newcomers to north London should start with La Crêperie de Hampstead, a takeaway crêpe stand which has been serving authentic versions of the French fast food staple for more than 30 years.
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Crêpes are made and served by bona fide French people using the classic technique and lots of salted butter. They even accept Euros.
For indoor eating and table service, L’Absinthe in Primrose Hill is an authentic corner bistro serving French classics such as duck confit and steak frites. The next door café will satisfy daytime cravings for a casual croque monsieur or café au lait and a croissant.
Hampstead Village has a branch of small London chain Aubaine, which offers all-day French dining and a truly indulgent bakery and pâtisserie offering.
L’Aventure is an elegant dining room bringing Gallic flavours to St John’s Wood lunches and dinners, while L’Associes in Crouch End is a cosy local spot with a very French-style three course set menu and wine list.
Nowadays it’s possible to buy most of the traditional French groceries ex-pats get really homesick for in Waitrose but there are also plenty of delicatessens and specialist food shops for more indulgent goodies.
A visit to the Hampstead Butcher and Providore will set you up with supplies of saucisson and jambon de Bayonne, as well as fromage from all over France.
A little further afield, La Fromagerie off Marylebone High Street has a comprehensive cheese selection and staff have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the produce.
For wine, French chain Nicolas has branches in Hampstead and Primrose Hill and stocks a reliable selection, while Jeroboam’s on Heath Street caters for the upper end of the market. Wine merchants Majestic also have their flagship store in St John’s Wood.
Hampstead is a haven for French women who want to retain their chic Gallic style. Well-known French brands Comptoir des Cotonniers, Zadig and Voltaire, Agnès B, Gerard Darel and Sandro all have branches in and around the village.
Dressing les enfants is also easy with a branch of Petit Bateau on Hampstead High Street. Boutique Elias and Grace also stocks several French children’s brands including Bensimon, Bonpoint and jewellery label Inspiration by La Giraffe.
Furniture make Roche Bobois has a store on Finchley Road for those keen to extend the look to their homes as well.
Les Petites Etoiles is a French/English bilingual nursery in Tufnell Park. It caters for approximately 50 infants aged between one and five although there is a waiting list.
The Collège Français Bilingue de Londres (CFBL) opened three years ago in Kentish Town to cater for the overspill from the original Lycee in South Kensington. The school teaches a French curriculum in both French and English and pupils with at least one French parent can apply for a means-tested bursary for the private independent school.