If an opening has been more eagerly anticipated than Bistrot Bruno Loubet I can’t remember it. Among those of us of a certain age (40+) at least.
Loubet was one of the most talented chefs of the 90s, cooking to great acclaim at an earlier Bistrot Bruno then at L’Odon when he suddenly vanished to Australia and we all gloomily thought we’d never see him again.
There were rumours that he was coming back and then a manifestation at Pierre Koffman’s sensationally successful pop-up at Selfridges last year and now, after a will-he/won’t he bout of assertion and counter-denial he’s taken over the kitchen at the Zetter hotel in Farringdon.
Frankly you’d never know he’d been away. He’s cooking much the same dishes with barely a passing reference to his extended stay Down Under. This is a modern bistro serving a spin on classic French food but it’s far from being a me-too version of every other bistro in London. Bruno was always original and still is - witness the pairing of snails and meatballs in a robust stew of a starter (above right) that would happily do duty for a main. The genius touch was a little bed of finely chopped mushroom ‘royale’, a pale-coloured duxelle-type concoction which stopped the dish being over-intense. Apparently it was inspired by his mother Mauricette after whom the dish is named.
Other starters I tried were onion soup with cider and an ‘upside down Emmental souffl’ (tasty but not the best-looking dish. Angelus’ version is better) and some classy little beetroot ravioli with a rocket salad
I had to wrestle with my conscience about whether to have Bruno’s spin on hare royale which our waiter unhelpfully revealed contained foie gras along with pork belly and duck livers. Greed and curiosity won out, my feeble rationalisation being that if the menu hadn’t mentioned it there can’t have been much foie gras in the sauce. As you can see from the picture (right, snapped rather more professionally than mine by Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos) it was a spectacular dish: apparently cooked for two days - beautifully tender, silkily sauced and not over-rich. The accompanying pumpkin and dried mandarin pure provided a lovely counter-balancing note of sweetness, better than the sides of gratin dauphinoise and a curiously dull dish of calabrese and mangetout, the only duff note of the evening. I also got to taste the ros veal which apparently is to be a regular feature of the menu: on this occasion stuffed and served with chantenay carrots and leeks. Just lovely French bourgeois cooking.
(An interesting sidenote on the wine we drank. After some hesitation our waiter recommended the Clos de los Siete from Argentina with the hare on the grounds that it was similarly full-bodied but to our surprise we found the Gladstone New Zealand Pinot Noir suggested for the veal kept its character better and provided a more refreshing counterpoint.)
We were both so stuffed by this point we could barely face dessert but again the choice was too tempting and it seemed rude not to. We were rewarded by a spectacularly good brioche, crme frache and rhubarb tart (right) which reminds one just how perfect an end to a meal classic French patisserie can be.
Other observations: the room is lot warmer and more buzzy than its previous rather clinical incarnation, the service was particularly friendly and helpful and top marks for being able to provide individual pots of fresh mint tea on request. Minor criticisms (apart from the veg): the restaurant should not still be waiting for its ‘fish of the day’ at 7.30pm on a Tuesday even if it ‘had to come up from Cornwall’ as our waiter disarmingly informed us and both wines (we also had a white Bergerac in carafe) were served a touch too warm.
These are minor quibbles on only the second day of opening. This is a great place offering delicious, imaginative food at a decent price. It’s good to see Bruno back.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet is at the Zetter Hotel, St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ. Tel: +44 (0)20 7324 4455
We ate at Bistrot Bruno Loubet as guests of the restaurant. You should easily be able to eat 3 courses here a la carte for £35-40 a head + wine and service. There’s a no choice ‘sharing menu’ for the whole table for £17.50 at lunchtime and £22.50 in the evening