Vincent Labeyrie and Pascal Aussignac, the duo behind the fabled Club Gascon, recently relaunched their elegant food shop spin-off (overlooking Smithfield Market) as a bistro. As with their other London ventures, inspiration is taken from the earthy cuisine of South West France.
The team originally billed this re-launch as a fairly straightforward bistro, and you could indeed have a very good rich peasant’s lunch here. Our meal, for example, included unctuous rillettes (served with very classy toast), authentically chewy bavette (steak), and chips which my Bordelaise guest pronounced particularly good. The ‘show-stopper’, though – which unfortunately came right at the beginning – was an all-time-best black pudding with apples.
In addition to the blackboard menu there’s a carte that offers a further range of dishes (organised by theme). This selection somewhat reinforced the feeling that the team has not quite followed through on its early, basic convictions. Some of the dishes are hardly the fodder of Gascony’s horny-handed sons of toil. A seafood fricasée, for example, or some rather dainty pÃ¢tisserie. While everything is of high quality, we – perhaps unfairly – had a feeling that they’d bottled out from offering Smithfield the truly rustic formula which customers might have found a more compelling – and slightly cheaper – proposition.
Service (largely Anglo) also incited slightly mixed feelings. The staff are charming, but catching their eye can be surprisingly difficult – this is not a large room – and one dish was taken away largely uneaten without enquiry. (It was in fact fine, but it would have been nice to be asked.)
In their original deli-format, these airy premises were notable as one of London’s few quality Gallic traiteurs; you can still take home some very good bread, as well as cheeses, chocolates, pÃ¢tisserie, foie gras and wines.