Sunday, 11 April 2010
I'm on the bus to Farringdon, salivating rather enthusiastically over Marina O'Loughlin's description of stickily rich hare royale with onion raviolo, pumpkin and dried mandarin puree at Bistrot Bruno Loubert.
Unsurprisingly, having held the bus driver's foot to the metal, we arrive early at Bistrot Bruno, like 2 eager puppies. It buys us some time to peruse the menu in the window - tongues to pavement.
And there's no hare today.
The lip quivers.
But the sun is shining in Farringdon, and nowhere does it gleam brighter than in the breezy modern bistro we've come to inspect. With white walls and big windows, BBL is casual but aglow, humming with a contented chatter.
Loubet has returned from an 8 year sojourn in Australia (Brisbane) to once again have the London food scene in a lather. He previously flaunted his skills at such places as London's L'Odeon and the Inn on the Park where he earned a Michelin star. He was named the UK's Young Chef of the Year (1985 Good Food Guide) and was appointed head chef of Raymond Blanc's 2 Michelin Star restaurant, Le Manoir, all before heading to Oz and coming back again to tackle his new creative venture. Blimey.
Loubet's interesting, creative bistro food adds a modern twist to French classics. It has both feet on the ground, but adds something surprising and creative, often involving exotic Asian or North African ingredients.
I start with the Mauricette snails and meatballs, which circle seductively around a light, creamy mushroom mousse (£8). The sauce is delectably sweet and savoury, but the heavenly mousse steals the show.
We're dining with our lucky charms, T & M (it seems they never have a bad lunch, at least not with us). TPG and Lucky M have chosen the Sunday roast (beef this week), which comes with a plentiful starter - slabs of hearty terrine, bread and cornichons - and a floating island and Pernod custard dessert, all for £22. The starter is meaty, tasty and generous - we easily could have shared one between all of us. Lucky M is working his magic already.
Lucky T starts lightly with a side salad, which was basic but did the job - she's only warming up. (Believe me, wait until the chocolates arrive...)
Having braced myself for the hare, my chosen substitute was going to have to be a rip snorter. Lucky T and I both opted for the confit lamb shoulder. The lamb was pressed into a round little bombshell - fatty, juicy and tender - with white bean mash, sweet red pepper, preserved lemon and green harissa (£16). I wouldn't say there were fireworks, but this was an absolutely lovely combination of flavours, adding some exotic zing to an otherwise hard core meaty dish.
The menfolk enjoyed their lashings of perfectly cooked slices of roast beef with vegetables and bearnaise. Again, servings were generous.
Lucky T and I shared an apple and quince mille feuille with an orange blossom sabayon (£6). Beautifully presented, this was at once a decadent and light finish to the meal. Eternal thanks to Lucky T for allocating to me the larger share.
The menfolk tried to look manly, beating their chests as they nibbled daintily at the their floating island of cloudy meringue in its creamy custard base. In the name of research, I helped TPG crack his way through the toffee coating (which he wasn't fussed about, but I liked) to serve myself several spoonfuls. The meringue was dense rather than delicate, and TPG thought it excellent. The custard was lovely and creamy with a surprisingly strong hit of Pernod - I don't know how that works, but it really does.
Coffees came with a scrumptious little chocolate ganache each, with hints of salty caramel undertones. In true Peanut Gallery form, TPG likened the flavour to a sophisticated version of the Cadbury Chocolate Eclair.
Service was friendly and mostly good, although dessert wines would have come after dessert was devoured had we not issued a prompt (and even then we had to hold back our spoons awhile). Then, having specifically requested coffee to arrive after we'd finished the dessert wine, it came early - twice. We let it go the second time.
Niggles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Bistrot Bruno Loubet. It's been heaped with praise since it opened some weeks ago, but it's a worthy recipient. I can see it going from strength to strength as it continues to provide clever bistro delights to us lucky Londoners.
A 3 course meal for 2 with wine, dessert wine and service costs around £90. And you probably won't need dinner...
Bistrot Bruno Loubet, The Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon (Ph: 020 7324 4455)