Monday, 24 August 2020

littlefrench, Bristol

At 1pm on Saturday, Littlefrench was empty. Normally this would be cause for some alarm - nowhere's having a great time of it in Covidworld but you'd hope Bristol's most highly-regarded neighbourhood bistro would be able reel in the punters even in the middle of a pandemic - but we soon discovered there was no need to panic on their behalf. On making ourselves known to reception, we were led out of the front of the restaurant, down an almost invisible gap between it and the church next door, and into a large and tranquil courtyard sheltered from the elements by a network of canopies. Littlefrench has, seizing on the availability of such a useful plot of land right next door, gone alfresco, and for as long as the temperatures hold you can enjoy a socially-distanced lunch in the open air. Which is all rather lovely.

Lovely, too, is the product on offer, an attractive and tastefully constructed menu of familiar favourites such as onglet & fries, and rather more leftfield things like offal or shellfish, enough to satisfy all levels of the food-obsessed and at immensely reasonable prices. They also do a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut for £57.50, a champagne which is £37.84 retail, so it seems generosity isn't limited to the food.

Oysters were slightly the wrong side of creamy for my liking, but then it's that time of year so comes with the territory. The good news is they were huge things, and the pickled shallots scattered on top were exactly the right kind of accompaniment, cutting through the fat and adding a bit of colour.

Pigeon was saved bravely rare, and had a good, deep gamey flavour. But even better was a celeriac remoulade, which was sharp and creamy and salty, studded with wholegrain mustard and capers, and would have absolutely been worth ordering on its own.

I was also lucky enough to try one of these grilled scallops, which were steeped in "Sauternes butter" (as good as it sounds) and sprinkled with chives. These "Queenie" scallops are smaller than the usual kind, and seem to have a more concentrated, sweeter flavour. There's something oddly satisfying about eating a scallop out of its own shell, as well.

Another starter was crab and warm potato salad, which I didn't try, but I did hear it being described as "great", so I'll go on the record with that. Looks pretty, too, doesn't it?

For a shared main, we'd decided to order a whole turbot, and blimey it did not disappoint. The flesh lifted off the bone in large, satisfying, bright-white chunks, it was all perfectly seasoned, and accompanying sautéed potatoes and spinach were spot-on. We also ordered a separate side of fries, because I liked the idea of turbot & chips, and some green beans with hazelnuts, which were as tasty as they were squeaky (very). There really was nothing on the table less than great, and along with the charming service it all added up to a very pleasant afternoon.

We were enjoying ourselves so much, in fact, that we ended up finishing the meal not only with a cheesecourse (a Roquefort-style blue being the highlight of that) but also two prune & armagnac tarts, "matched" with a double measure of the same armagnac. Only quite rarely these days do I find myself ordering desserts and cheese - which shows you how much Littlefrench had won us over. We never wanted it to end.

Inevitably though, sadly, it did end, and with a bill of £73pp. Now clearly this is not an everyday spend, but considering the sheer amount of food we'd ordered, and booze (including champagne and cocktails) and that it was of such an incredibly high standard, I'm going to call it a bargain. Littlefrench have the attitude (and price point) of an unassuming local restaurant, and indeed the locals of Westbury Park should be giddy with delight they have such a place on their doorstep. But that a group of spoiled Londoners made a special journey for a weekend hooked around lunch here, and left thinking it was worth every penny of the return rail fare and a night's AirBnB, well that should tell you everything you need to know. Quietly ambitious, unassumingly skilled and subtly brilliant, Littlefrench is pretty much everything I want in a restaurant.


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