Mon Plaisir | 30y
Marilène first came over from Nantes in west France in 1987 and began working for Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden the year after. She held two jobs in the beginning, working as a cashier at the restaurant during the day and managing a building for homeless people at night. These days she deals with all the accounting and financial side of the business and helps out front of house in the evening.
She tells me many stories about the restaurant’s culture of regulars: she’s seen multiple generations of customers continue to partake of the classic French cuisine and those who’ve moved abroad occasionally come back especially to dine there. Such is the size of their pool of regulars that they often find it tricky to accommodate those asking for their usual table, as that table tends to ‘belong’ to many different couples! Another couple had their first date at Mon Plaisir, got engaged there, came for their wedding lunch, and visited a couple of years ago for their 50th anniversary.
Until ten years ago Monmouth Street was full of small independent shops such as a vintage vinyl store, a high-end second-hand clothing boutique, and the first ever Oddbins. Now a big fashion conglomerate owns most of them to house its various brands, but Alain, the restaurant’s boss, shrewdly bought the premises many decades ago and avoided the big rent hikes.
The restaurant grew from the original 23-seater area at the front and opened the second room next door in the 80s. Now diners can choose from four separate dining rooms or drink at the striking bar that was brought over from France.
In the late 1990s a fire destroyed much of the original dining room, but it was painstakingly restored using old photographs of the space. Even the smoke-caked posters were cleaned and brought back to life by specialists.
Such an old restaurant comes with a plethora of amusing tales and she tells me about a brothel that used to exist upstairs and how barely-clothed girls would pop down now and then to pick up some wine.