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By NATASHA HOTSON
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Natasha Hotson indulges in French cuisine at a Michelin starred chef’s latest bistro venture in Clerkenwell
Bistros are disappearing from France in favour of chips and the internet. Michelin starred chefs are having to go guerrilla and open up bistros in backstreets to stop their fellow men scoffing Big Macs on their way to buy multipacks of Dairylea from the nearest hypermarket.
But over in Blighty we love any old eating establishment with the name bistro tagged onto it. The romantic vision of checked tablecloths and wine bottles holding candles dripping wax into the boeuf bourguignon still tantalises us, even if we can hear the microwave pinging in the background.
And in case you hadn’t noticed, the posh pub revolution is not exactly in decline.
So what do you get when you cross classy French comfort food with the slick service and self-conscious décor of a gastro pub? Bistrot Bruno Loubet at the Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet
St John’s Square, EC1
020 7324 4455
Mains: from £13.50
Wines: from £20
Disabled access: Yes
Children welcome: Yes
Opened in February 2010 by super chef Bruno Loubet on his prodigal return to the UK after eight years in Australia, his latest venture into British cuisine is once again a roaring success.
The curved room is decorated in a grown up way with some quirky knickknacks for a bit of east London salvage yard chic, without putting off too many demographic groups.
The menu is perfect in that it has just the right amount of choice and features combinations that are interesting without being intimidating. A bit like Kate Middleton. But the food takes the operation into riskier but not too daring climes. Rather like Pippa Middleton.
For starters we consumed duck pastrami with coleslaw and piccalilli and an octopus, smoked anchovies and bean salad with a paprika dressing. Both were delicious and the portions were on the right side of generous.
I then scoffed a beautifully presented main course of rabbit tournedos (bunny wrapped in bacon) in an artichoke sauce, and daubed with pesto made from lovage, a lettuce like herb.
My partner troughed down the calves liver, accompanied by polenta and a green tomato chutney. The meats were the stars of the show, although a side order of garlic mash was an inspired accompaniment.
My dessert was the chocolate fondant with a salted liquid fudge centre. Calling it a fondant may be technically accurate but does not do it justice somehow. It was like eating a chocolate volcano filled with fudge lava – I could have eaten two.
My companion’s thin apple tart with crème fraiche and cinnamon ice cream was not quite the ticket. The pastry was a bit burnt, but that is a minor criticism.
As for the drinks, wines are reasonably priced with many of the bottles around £20 and aperitifs starting at a modest £4, which is practically happy hour compared with the optimistically inflated prices of restaurants far inferior to this one.
And the verdict? Fantastique! I only wish more Michelin chefs would take refuge in Clerkenwell.