January always sees a plethora of good offers for dining out. But the one that stood out for me – bringing fine dining down to an affordable level – was The French.
The last time myself and Mr GFB visited, Simon Rogan was still firmly at the helm and we were there to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The food was fabulous, a fantastic time was had, and between us, we reached bill heights I’ve not experienced before or since. A four figure bill for a small group of diners is still enough to make me blanch. What can I say, I’m an administrator, not a high roller.
This visit, however was a lot different. Under the trusty guidance of Adam Reid, January saw an offer that Mr GFB and I couldn’t refuse. Four courses, plus a glass of Champagne for £45. The only restrictions was that it had to be a week night (Tuesday – Thursday) before 26 January 2017 (ahead of the planned refurbishment).
Differences in the experience were apparent when we arrived. Whilst under Simon Rogan it could hardly have been called noisy or boisterous, there was something quieter about the space, and somewhat softer. The lighting was a little lower, the staff a little gentler in voice – though the service was just as swift and gracious.
Comfortably seated our Champagne in hand, we ogled the menu. In addition to the four courses, there were options for a cheese course, the much exalted Golden Empire from the Great British Menu 2016, and of course, a matched wine option.
Our first course featured a vegetable that would normally have Mr GFB pulling a face – broccoli. Sprouting broccoli tempura, fried in nut oil to keep it light, with cheese and truffle in a soft light mousse. Rich truffle, creamy cheese, bitter but crisp broccoli, it was a palate awakening dish – as you’d expect – and Adam Reid can join the few who can make Mr GFB enjoy his greens so much to leave it clean.
This list sadly doesn’t include me. According to Mr GFB I simply don’t use enough butter.
Our second dish was one that had me wishing it was seemly in public to lick plates clean. Just barely there grilled plaice, brown shrimps, carrots and charred Little Gem lettuce. The plaice was translucent and firm (often a challenge in itself), the shrimps held their deep fishy note, a light creamy sauce, rounds of carrots and the bitterness of the charred Little Gem just pulling it back from being overly rich. And the stoneware plates heard the scrape of my fork again, and again, before I gave up reluctantly (much to the relief of other diners I’m sure).
Our third dish was perhaps my most photographed. I took a ridiculous number of images of the ruby red salt baked beetroot that was sitting on top of tender, fatty duck, served with a preserved cherry sauce. This was so close to being my favourite dish of the night. So, so close. I have three things food wise that I adore above all others. Peaches, cherries and custard tart.
Yes, guess what was last.
When the custard tart with quince arrived, I nearly whimpered. The round tart was covered in finely grated nutmeg and served with a quince mousse. That tart was heaven. Crisp pastry, the perfumed bitterness of the nutmeg, the buttery custard. I almost felt sorry for the table next to us, as I’m pretty sure I made noises. I’m sorry.
I’d be embarrassed, but, custard tart makes me do that.
We could have finished here, but this was the French and not somewhere we dine often. So, well, we had to.
Say hello to the Golden Empire.
Sugar apple, filled with creamy custard, sweet stewed apple and hazelnut crumble, sitting atop a sharp apple sorbet. Textural, rich, creamy and a dessert lovers dream. Mr GFB and I shared, as there was still one treat to go.
Oh yes, the cheeseboard. We couldn’t miss it out. The French has one of the best cheese selections in the city, and though this board was chosen for us, it was still a great board of classics (I do love a little Stichelton), and was of course served with their homemade crackers, thinly sliced toasted sourdough, their in house condiments.
Again, we shared as we were close to ‘wafer thin mint’ stage by this point.
Replete, satisfied, and perhaps a little sleepy, once again the French impressed – as it should. Already there are little differences, changes that we’ll no doubt see echoed further when the refurbishment is completed.
Thank you for bringing fine dining to a price that makes it distinctly more affordable for us mere mortals – I know this was a January deal, but I’m hopeful….
More of this please?