A triumphant return from Down Under for Bruno Loubet – a star London chef of the ’90s – the good value menu of whose essentially French Clerkenwell bistro is spiced up with many Antipodean twists.
A rare trick is pulled off by the menu at this new Shoreditch bistro; familiar enough not to be scary, but with enough twists to ensure that a meal is rarely likely boring.
This formula will come as no great surprise to those who remember the Bruno Loubet of a decade ago. The very Gallic young chef whose ‘innovative’ cooking won an ‘exceptional’ rating for his then new Soho bistro in our 1994 guide.
Add a long subsequent stint Down Under, twinned with an express determination to remain a real chef rather than a media star, and it’s no surprise that his new operation – which we visited on its second day – looks set to be a force to be reckoned with.
The style is broadly like that of the fabulously successful Arbutus – the current occupant of the site that, coincidentally, was Loubet’s back in the ’90s. As befits the Shoreditch location its whole style is rather more ‘Downtown’ (in the NYC sense) than you generally tend to find in Soho.
Like the setting, however, the service is relaxed only in a good way. And there’s nothing sloppy about the extensive wine list either.
It’s the food, though – with its combination of traditional technique and innovation – which is what really makes the place worth seeking out. An onion soup, for example, comes not only laced with cider but with an inverted Emmenthal soufflé for a hat: an ambitious conceit for a bistro, but one which, for a guest, succeeded totally. Salmon tartare came prettily spread across a plate, interspersed with cracked wheat: it really did make a cracking start.
For a main course, our guest much enjoyed the dish of scallops and black pudding which chef regards as something of a ‘signature’. A subseqeunt rice pudding panacotta and marmalade was also much approved. Such dishes you might describe as ‘variations on bistro classics’.
Other items, though no pricer, are rather more restaurant-like: a main course of panfried breast of wood pigeon, for example, came notably prettily presented with small cauliflower florets, and a quinoa and giblet sauce. Another, an entirely successful apple and quince mille feuille with an orange blossom sabayon, was a very pretty dish of the sort you might hope to find in a much grander sort of establishment.
And there, perhaps is a danger. It’s important to bear in mind that the pricing here – with most main dishes around £16 – is firmly around the grander sort of bistro level, rather than at anything which might lead you reasonably to expect ‘haute cuisine’. That, at this sort of price level, you get something not very far off is still an all-too-rare London treat.
Welcome back Bruno.