86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London, EC1M 5RJ, 020 7324 4455, www.thezetter.com/en/Restaurant
Here is somewhere that’s made the critical cup overfloweth with stars and top ratings, ten-out-of-tens and complements aplenty. This, it seems, is the return of the prodigal son.
Whatever. He’s back, Bruno Loubet has returned from Oz. And boy – judging by the reviews – are the critics glad to see him. All of which, you’d think, would lead to a mighty anti climax when you actually ate there. Right? Well… not really. Because, underneath all the hype and hysteria, Bistro Bruno Loubet is rather good.
What you get here is well thought out, executed and extremely tasty food. Good value too. This is classic French bistro food done at a very high level. It’s certainly the equal of anything I’ve eaten at Galvin Bistro de Luxe or Boudin Blanc. Even with the odd dud.
Having read a review by The London Eater we came prepared to make careful choices. The starters all displayed a deft hand in flavour-matching and some innovative touches.
Beetroot ravioli were open, small dumpling-like clusters of beetroot and sage sitting top al dente pasta disks. The flavour was soft and almost fruity balanced by the sage.
Toothsome Mauricette snails came with small but strong tasting meatballs and a wonderful umami-rich mushroom cream panacotta mousse type affair. A very well thought out combo with lots of powerful but complementary flavours. The potted shrimp with smoked mackerel did the same with very different flavours.
But the real eye opener, in a quiet way, were the cubes of fatty salmon tartar which came with the merest hint of spice, just enough to lift it to a whole new level. Delicious.
Mains were generous in size and bold in flavour. Beef daube Provencale was two fist-sized hunks of aromatic, unctuous and moist beef. Tender strings of glutinous meat just came away on the fork. Saffron risotto was a classic of its type, creamy, al dente, tasty.
Roast English veal was the only dud, not bad, the meat was very tasty. It was just a bit boring. Especially in comparison to the confit lamb shoulder. Sitting atop pureed white beans with some gently spicy green harissa on the side, was a tennis ball of dark, tender lamb. It was superb with a flavour that was both soft and strong. Fabulous.
A special mention at this point to our waiter who was charm personified, and he knew his stuff too. Not afraid to recommend in a non-pushy way, he gauged our tastes and everything he pointed us to was superb. He made a good evening into a great one.
The standout dessert for me was rice pudding pannacotta, all creamy goodness cut beautifully with bitter-sharp seville orange marmalade. The rest of the table all thought the brioche, creme fraiche and rhubarb tart the best. This was a ronseal dish – did exactly what it said, and very well indeed. In comparison, like the veal, the chocolate tartlet was decent, but uninspired.
With two bottles of wine, the three courses came to about £45 per head, which for food of this quality is not bad at all. I would have no qualms about coming back again, making sure I chose carefully. This is one place that rewards a sense of adventure, but can punish the timid.