Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Chabrot Bistrot d'Amis, Knightsbridge
Had my meal at Chabrot Bistrot d'Amis in Knightsbridge been anything less than brilliant, I wouldn't be writing this post. Not because I only report on the very good or very bad places - although based on the last few months posts I could see why you may suspect that - but because, thanks to a combination of a very "atmospherically"-lit first floor dining room and the dark, narrow alleyway location, none of my photos turned out. But we had such a good time, and were so thoroughly impressed by the food and hospitality of this brand new eatery, that I thought it was worth risking a few words despite the lack of illustration, and let's face it, if you came here looking for decent photos in the first place, you were only ever going to be disappointed.
That's not to say the food at Chabrot isn't photogenic, though. It was all perfectly well presented in that rustic French bistro style, the bright colours and textures of a painstakingly-prepared broad bean and sheep's cheese salad making me wish I'd visited at lunch time or brought one of those fancy SLRs that can do long-exposure shots in low light. And it wasn't let down by the taste, the cheese in particular having a very interesting texture somewhere between cottage cheese and egg white omelette, seasoned perfectly. A bowl of near-perfect whitebait was also excellent, somehow remaining crispy and greaseless right down to the very last morsel, and was a very generous portion too.
The standout amongst the starters, though, was a warm duck liver pate with Comté gougère. The pate itself was lovely and rich, showcasing the distinctive taste and texture of duck liver without being dry or bitter, and it was served with a huge fresh Yorkshire Pudding (sorry, "gougère") which pulled apart very satisfyingly into soft and crunchy pieces to scoop up the duck. I didn't detect much of the advertised cheese, although had it not been advertised at all I wouldn't have missed it, so perhaps I shouldn't complain. This was a great dish, and how ironic that the best Yorkshire Pudding (sort of) I've eaten in London was cooked by a Frenchman and served in a bistro.
Mains were equally impressive. A fillet of hake was cooked perfectly and slid apart into bright white flakes with the slightest pressure; Veal was light and soft and dressed with enough fresh herbs and seasoning to compliment and not overwhelm this most delicate of cuts; and best of all was an impossibly tender slice of medium-rare skirt steak, the flavour of which could only have come from London's finest (and most expensive) artisan butchers, O'Sheas, just down the road. Even the house chips, if perhaps not quite up there with the best the city has to offer, did their job as well as could be reasonably expected.
If I was picking holes, I could probably say that the dessert menu was slightly less tempting than the savoury courses, although that could just be because we were so stuffed by the time it came round to making a decision. Instead of a dessert course proper, then, we opted for a couple of "coffee gourmand", coffee accompanied by three portions of superb mini dessert, a dense chocolate pudding coated in sesame seeds, a soft sponge cake of some kind, and a brilliant crispy, sticky canele.
Most impressive of all, considering the quality of food and ingredients and the premium location (just opposite Harvey Nicks, a stone's throw away from the Mandarin Oriental and within spitting distance of Harrods), was the bill. The hake and the skirt steak were daily specials up on the chalkboard that came as part of a "Formule Bistro", each including the coffee gourmand AND a glass of (excellent) wine for a frankly bargainous £17.50. And even with another 50cl carafe of Picpoul de Pinet and a sweet Muscat to finish, the total only approached £40/head thanks to my insistence on breaking the "Formule" and going freelance on the A La Carte. The service could do with a bit of a polish, perhaps - our otherwise pleasant waiter was largely unintelligible and only after persuading him to repeat himself, slowly, and several times, did we finally understand the complexities of the "Formule" option - but it was more amusing than annoying, and didn't spoil anything about the evening.
It goes without saying that in this part of town, serviced by a steady stream of undemanding and credulous tourists, where nowhere must have to try very hard to do well, it is all the more heroic that Bistrot Chabrot is serving such excellent stuff at such relatively low prices. It's not a budget option, by any means, but the quality of food here compares favourably with almost any other French restaurant outside of a very few multi-starred top end, and is certainly better than many more expensive places I can think of. You'll have to take my word, then, and this time, thanks to the lack of photography, only my word, that Chabrot Bistrot d'Amis is worth a visit by anyone with even a passing interest in classic French bistro food. A lovely little place.
Press photo taken from the restaurant's own website