Bistrot Bruno Loubet, Clerkenwell. ****

Clerkenwell’s Bistrot Bruno Loubet ingeniously pulls off creative adaptations of regional French classics.

Beetroot ravioli, fried breadcrumbs and sage with rocket salad

Beetroot ravioli, fried breadcrumbs and sage with rocket salad

My last visit to the Zetter was in February 2010, shortly before Bruno Loubet took over the kitchen. Back in the nineties, Loubet rose to fame as the chef owner of Bistrot Loubet and L’Odeon. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to visit either restaurant. Being a twenty-something cash strapped student, my top priorities were meeting boys, recording This Life, and tracking down pubs down that served pints for a pound. Nowadays, life is slightly different. I record BNTM, my preferred drink is caipirinha, and the boy hunts have been substituted with quests to find the perfect meal.

At the beginning of 2010, the Zetter hotel announced that Loubet would be taking over their kitchen. All the oldies started twittering about how they loved him back in the day, drumming up enough noise to get me excited.

Mauricette Snails and Meatballs with royale de champignons

Mauricette Snails and Meatballs with royale de champignons

Every couple of weeks my husband and I take turns at organising date night, and this week it was my turn. We had both been keen to try out Bistro Bruno Loubet, so I made a reservation for an early 6.30pm dinner on a Saturday night. We were both impressed by the Russell Sage makeover. The ugly red squiggly wall motifs had been painted over and the lighting felt softer, resulting in a more calming colour scheme. I love the quirky shelf system by the front door. It is made up of reclaimed wooden shelves stacked up horizontally and vertically and intentionally off center. I know it sounds a bit bonkers but actually adds heaps of charm.

There were few occupied tables as it was only 6.30pm. The Uruguay – Ghana world cup quarter final probably didn’t help matters. The waitress led us to our table and intended to plonk us right next to the only other couple in the restaurant. One of my pet peeves is table eavesdropping. If you have to slide your table out so that half the party can sit on the other side, you will be definitely be in painstakingly close earshot of your neighbours. This table wasn’t a slider job but definitely eavesdropping proximity. Our request for another table further afield was readily granted.

We quickly got over the seating saga as our new table treated us to front row seats of the dramatic open kitchen where Monsieur Loubet and his team were already at work.

Quail and pistachio dodine with spinach and egg yolk raviolo

Quail and pistachio dodine with spinach and egg yolk raviolo

Our first starter was the beetroot ravioli with fried breadcrumbs and sage with a rocket salad. The dark red beetroot slithers sprinkled on top of the bold green rocket was visually stunning. It also tasted divine. The buttery ravioli skins were incredibly thin and supple and generously filled with a delicately seasoned beetroot filling. The crunchy breadcrumbs and sage added some extra texture and surprisingly, the nutty rocket combined well with the earthy beetroot. The Mauricette Snails and Meatballs with royale de champignons was also a feast for the senses. In the centre of the plate was a mound of creamy mushroom mousse splashed with some dark green parsley butter. The mushroom mound was framed with a bright red tomato based sauce teeming with meatballs and snails. The hearty flavours worked wonderfully together, and the sizeable snails, which were not overly chewy, were excellent.

Our first main was the stuffed provencale vegetable tagine. The colourful mini peppers had been cooked in an authentic Moroccan tagine pot which was brought to the table. I’m glad they hadn’t attempted to tart up the presentation because it looked deliciously rustic this way. The peppers had been filled with a couscous mixture, which had been soaked in an unbelievably flavoursome vegetable stock. Scattered amongst the caramelized peppers were some crunchy roasted almonds, big black olives and sprigs of parsley. It was a beautiful composition. The second main was quail and pistachio dodine with spinach and egg yolk raviolo. The quail was cooked perfectly and very tender. The egg yolk raviolo was a first timer for us and was very interesting in taste and texture, reminding us a little of egg’s benedict without the hollandaise.

To finish, we shared the Valrhona chocolate tart with salty caramel ice cream. Compared to the rest of the meal, the dessert was not as special. The ice cream was not salty enough and the dense chocolate tart was good in the sense that Paul’s cakes are good. I was however expecting something a little more creative like our first two courses..

Reflecting on our meal, it is evident that Loubet has a hefty talent for “revising” regional French dishes without losing their essence. I also loved that he has branched out into North African territory with his Moroccan tagine, spruced up with bold North African spices.

The bill came to £55 per person including a glass of wine, coffees and tip. Well worth it.

Bistrot Bruno Loubet The Zetter hotel, St John’s Square 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJU. 0207 324 4455

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