Saturday, 6 August 2011

Bistrot Bruno Loubet

I must admit, until Bistrot Bruno Loubet opened to great hoo-hah and frenzy last Spring, I hadn't heard of Bruno. My weakness for French bistro food is undeniable, and it's invariably the kind of food I cook for friends, but mention the man and I drew a blank.

After spending his formative years under the tutelage of Pierre Koffman and Raymond Blanc, it transpires he made rather a name for himself in the Nineties with Bistro Bruno and L'Odeon in London, achieving a Michelin star at the Four Seasons Inn on the Park, where he was Head Chef, before hot-footing it to Oz.

Two years after his return to the UK, his eponymous restaurant in Clerkenwell has established itself confidently among its high-end neighbours (St John, The Modern Pantry, Moro, and Vinoteca all sit within five minutes of Bruno's front door). The room, a large high-ceiling softly-lit space on the ground floor of the trendy Zetter hotel (I have a vague memory of being devastatingly drunk at a rooftop party here, years back: swanky rooms, in case you're wondering), is crammed with chattering media 30-somethings. The contented buzz put me and LT immediately at ease. With a wall-hugging table we were free to people-watch and settle down for a preprandial drink*.

The menu was measured, imaginative, and seasonal. I had been expecting a larger selection of dishes (maybe more than one soup, and some charcuterie), but each course (7/8 dishes for each) read well, particularly the starters and mains. The appearance of fusion flavours amidst the savoury bistro classics was a tell-tale sign of his decade in Brisbane (yuzu and miso in particular). The desserts looked indulgent, certainly, but sounded a little too familiar: apple tart, chocolate mousse, ice cream, cheeses. They have also not come off terribly well in recent write-ups.

With a carafe of sherbety French white (I forget which - too busy thinking about the food) delivered promptly by our lovely waiter, we considered and chose:
The vegetarian antipasti was a stunning starter. Beautiful to look at and just as artful on the palate. It was hard to detect the Parmesan, but I didn't miss it. Generous, too, for £7.

LT's salmon tartare was equally easy on the eye. Hardly French bistro, but apparently delightful and refreshing, the fish being top rate.

The rabbit 'tournedos' were the highlight of the evening for me. Succulent, tender rabbit meat wrapped tightly in bacon, filled with soft rabbit sweetbreads and accompanied by earthy artichoke with a dark rich jus, and a verdant and piquant lovage pesto. A highly accomplished dish.

LT didn't seem quite so keen on her grilled asparagus main. This was her first taste of a duck egg, and she had been expecting to be able to differentiate it from a hen's. She was left wanting, though the asparagus (seasonal? hmm) was delicately cooked and generously plated. Maybe not a dish to return for.

Overall, I loved the place. The atmosphere was convivial, and the food crowd-pleasing with signs of brilliance. Keen pricing pulls it to the top 10 of London restaurants for me. Go, you won't regret it (if you see oxtail on the menu, try it - Bruno's signature dish, apparently).

* We were late for our booking so set out straight for the restaurant, but if you have time, squeeze in a few drinks at the new Zetter Townhouse's cocktail bar, opposite the restaurant.

Pic credit: EwanM

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