Bordeaux-born Bruno Loubet was one of London's favourite adopted chefs in the 1990s. Joanna Wood went to see his new restaurant at London's Zetter hotel to see if his cooking still has a touch of magic.
Nine weeks have passed since Bruno Loubet, newly returned from Australia, opened his Bistrot in Clerkenwell's Zetter hotel. Predictably, there has been a stampede through its doors by assorted critics, foodies and fellow chefs. Their collective verdict has been, on the whole, very positive, with one or two having reservations about certain dishes.
But one thing is for sure: nobody dining at Bistrot Bruno Loubet will go home hungry. His portioning is on the butch side, as befits a no-nonsense bistro. As, indeed, is the opening menu itself, which has a tantalising selection of Loubet's take on French classics.
Some give a knowing nod to his past London incarnation, when he was a key chef in the capital during the 1990s at his original Bistrot Bruno in Soho's Frith Street - a surf ‘n'turf (Loubet pioneered the ubiquitous black pudding and scallop) of seared tuna wrapped in lardo di colonnata served with green apple purée (£8.50), for instance. And a guinea fowl boudin blanc, a big, fat, savoury, light-as-air sausage floating on a broth-sea of peas, ham and barley (£7). It's a starter, but substantial and flavour-packed enough to stand as a solitary course.
There are other French classics, often echoing Loubet's culinary past, which encompassed using North African spices and conquering the techniques of Italian cooking at the short-lived Isola restaurant in the early 2000s. A starter of sage and rocket salad comes with deep-fried breadcrumbs and an earthy beetroot ravioli tinged with citrus (£6.50). Hare royale is given an idiosyncratic twist by the inclusion of pumpkin and dried mandarin purée and an onion ravioli (£18) to offset its full-on punch on the palate. With its viscous, glossy sauce, the livre royale is a no-holds barred option that is already a top seller, despite not getting the thumbs up from The Guardian‘s Matthew Norman.
The 75-seat dining room wrapped around a long, enticing bar has a three-sided floor-to-ceiling window frontage and is light and airy. Given a facelift by designer Russell Sage, the space is clean-lined and welcoming. Together with Loubet's food it creates a buzzy, relaxed restaurant.
Back to the food, though, which is listed à la carte and includes daily specials centred on Cornish line-caught fish and an English rose veal cut of the day, plus seven options for dessert. The latter includes a selection of home-made sorbets and ice-creams as well as cheeses, priced respectively at £6 and £3.
Apart from the livre, diners are currently going for a starter of snails and meatballs with royale de Champagne (£8) ("Chefs like that and the tuna," says Loubet) and a rich and gutsy daube of beef with chunky Provençale vegetables and herbs, served with a big splodge of comforting and creamy pomme mousseline (£16.50). It's the type of dish Loubet does best: skilful, savoury, French comfort food.
However, what's more surprising if you don't know that he trained at one time in pâtisserie is the deft touch he has with puds. Desserts like a light millefeuille of apple and quince served with a delicate orange blossom sabayon (£6), for instance, or an unctuous cocoa-rich chocolate tartlet accompanied by salted butter ice-cream (£6.50).
Loubet, though, is not infallible. He started out by offering a three-course sharing menu at the Bistrot, which despite being a steal at £17.50 per person for lunch and £22.50 for dinner, failed to tempt his clientele. The idea was that big plates of food were put in the middle of the table from which diners helped themselves. The option is now being replaced by an individually plated and priced menu du jour.
That hiccup apart, it looks as though for once, an eagerly anticipated restaurant has lived up to expectation. And as it gets into its stride, Bistro Bruno Loubet can only cement itself into the collective consciousness of London's sometimes fickle diners.
Bistrot Bruno LoubetThe Zetter, St John's Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road,London EC1M 5RJ
Tel: 020 7324 4455
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Mackerel and piccalilli tart with green gazpacho dressing, £7
- Revised Lyonnaise salad and Beaujolais dressing, £7
- Onion and cider soup, upside-down Emmental soufflé, £6.50
- Pan-fried breast of wood pigeon, cauliflower, almond and quinoa and giblet sauce, £15.50
- Confit lamb shoulder, white beans and preserved lemon with green harissa, £16
- Quail and pistachio dodine with spinach and egg raviolo, £18.50
- Rice pudding panna cotta and marmalade, £5
- Brioche, crème fraîche and rhubarb tart, £6
- Lemon crème brûlée with jasmine tea sorbet, £5.50