Almost 6 months after its opening, and we only managed to get a 6:45pm table booking a week in advance. I guess this indicates it's still pretty popular, and indeed there was quite the buzz about the place. I checked my coat, picked up the other half at the bar, and we were taken to our table - bar tab was transferred with no fuss. We'd already taken a look at the menu, and read a few reviews, so had some idea of what we wanted to try. Bread, and butter arrived as soon as we sat, and a question about water. The bread was good, as was the butter. I went for a Burgundy to start, a carafe of Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru ‘Les Lavières’, Prieuré. Priced in the upper 2/3rds of the list, I got what I was looking for.
Bacon and Snail Pie
We started with the Herefordshire snail and bacon pie, and the Cornish Sardines with chilli, lemon, toasted sour-dough and olive oil. We switched halfway through, in order to get a share of the tastes, but mainly because I don't have the patience for the fish bones. The pastry was good, just enough of it, but well cooked and nice and flaky. The béchamel sort of sauce was gooey and delicious. There didn't seem to be a whole lot of bacon, and the snails were a tad chewey, but there was enough flavour and texture to make it a decent dish all around. The sardines, although difficult to eat, were well cooked and certainly fresh. The accent of lemon worked well, but I didn't find a whole lot of chilli going on. Just too difficult for me to eat personally.
Onto the main, and another 250ml carafe - Rosso di Montepulciano, Cantina Crocian. I'm a fan of Montepulciano, and this delivered the fruit I desired. I opted for the Bavette of Scottish beef, shallot sauce, the better half going for Friday's special dish - Classic bouillabaisse ‘Marseille style. I stuck with the suggested medium rare, being flank steak, it's not a good idea to cook it anymore than that. It was a pretty decently sized piece of meat, served with grilled carrots, and I ordered an extra side of fries. It arrived in a pan, that I'm pretty sure it wasn't cooked in. This is a bit disingenuous feeling. Hmm. I transferred it to my plate, and our young French waiter aided by adding a last ironic cheffy smear of the shallot jus (he was a good lad, we liked the service.) The beef itself was actually very good. Nothing ground breaking, but seemed very good value at 14.95. The fries were fantastic. The better half's bouillabaisse was lacking - where were the molluscs? Shellfish? There was hint of them in the sauce, but just a massive slab of fish was all she could find in the pot. The soup had such great flavour, it's a shame she couldn't sink her teeth into any of the participating ingredients. It just didn't have the wow factor, and was a little same-y.
For dessert, a classic vanilla crème brûlé. There are a couple of basic things on the check list for a crème brûlé. First the sugar. Is it the right thickness? Has it been over or under torched? This first box was thankfully ticked. Onto the contents - it wasn't quite as set as we would have liked, a little too, milky. Where was the vanilla? Better half wants to see specks of seed all over the place. I think I could count maybe 20? I'm sure it's a personal thing, but hey, there's no accounting for taste.
Would we go back? Probably not. But that's not to say I wouldn't recommend it. It definitely has a nice atmosphere, the service is great, and the cooking is certainly competent. But eh, there are plenty of other restaurants I need to try before returning here. Go to Arbutus instead if you've never been.