Here’s Why It’s Worth Traveling to Canary Wharf for the Food
As secrets go, Le Secret des Rôtisseurs is well-kept: The place is hard to find and I don't know anyone who has been there.
Then again, it's located at Canary Wharf, which isn't yet a dining destination, even though there are more than 70 cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Many are outposts of central London establishments, drawn to a small city where many thousands of people work, eat, drink, and shop.
If you want to go to Ibérica, Le Relais de Venise, Roka, Wahaca, etc., there's no need to make the journey. There are branches in the West End and the City. But there are individual restaurants in Canary Wharf that are worth the trip. Le Secret is one.
On a fine day, you can sit outside on a terrace sipping a glass of chilled white wine and look across the Thames to the City financial district with a feeling of serenity that is harder to achieve on the other side of the river.
Joggers and cyclists are your companions, and the occasional family with children. There are no cars and there is little noise, apart from the occasional mobile-phone conversation. As noises go, for me that's up there with a dentist's drill, but still ...
At the heart of restaurant are traditional French hinge-and-chain rôtissoires where chickens slowly roast, their juices gently dripping, their aroma slowly wafting across the room.
It's a simple formula and there's no need for diners to go off piste and also order the fish or vegetarian options. The basic half free-range chicken is 13.45 pounds ($20.34) plus 3.50 pounds for very good French fries that are light and crunchy.
The chicken itself is good without being the best you have ever tasted. The meat is juicy and has a decent flavor without being outstanding, while the skin is more limp than you would like. (The restaurant hasn't mastered the trick of crisping it without overcooking the flesh.)
It's British and our birds can be as dull as our politicians, but the "secret sauce" is seductive, tasting of a mix of herbs with the chicken juices. It's perfect for dipping in your chips.
The wine list is the real treat, particularly if you stick to the house white: Château des Tourtes Cuvée Normale 2012, a lemony Bordeaux (80 percent sauvignon, 20 percent sémillon) that is a steal at 21.90 pounds. It's 3.90 pounds for a glass and 11.90 pounds for a half-bottle if you really want such a thing.
Each wine on the list is accompanied by ratings from a variety of critics, including Robert Parker. You could spend a very pleasant evening on the terrace exploring the wine list and sharing a plate of charcuterie and cheese, with home-baked sourdough.
The best starter is a terrine of poultry livers (5.50 pounds), which has a good rough texture and an insistent meaty flavor, but is let down by a wetness reminiscent of something that has been defrosted. The deep-fried Camembert is so self-effacing, the cheese surrenders to the bread crumbs in which it is coated.
The desserts—profiteroles, madeleines, etc.—are uninteresting. It's best just to stick to your chicken.
The interior of the restaurant is not exciting, rather it feels cold, and the service is uneven. If the owner is looking after you, you feel loved. If he's not, you may feel the need to attract attention. Throwing your toys out of your pram is probably not a good idea, though just looking hungry doesn't work, either.
On what would have been my third visit, on a windy Saturday lunchtime, I was told I couldn’t sit outside. So I stomped my feet a few yards to the nearby Royal China, where the same thing happened. So I settled down indoors to swallow my pride, along with some fine dim sum, and I was surprised by the authenticity of the experience—especially following a recent visit to Hong Kong. The food, the diners, and the service were just as I remembered them from my trip. And the restaurant was full early on a Saturday afternoon.
Maybe Canary Wharf is a dining destination after all.
Le Secret des Rôtisseurs is at 37 Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, London, E14 8RR; +44-20-7719-0950 or www.eatlesecret.co.uk. Royal China, 30 Westferry Circus, E14 8RR; +44-20-7719-0888 or rcguk.co.uk.
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.