A fine French restaurant in an historic London pub, serves up an English institution with commendable results

The French once responded to the British ‘Frog’ jibes by calling us ‘Rosbifs’ a simple stereotype that’s probably no longer allowed, not least because the French don’t seem to eat frogs’ legs much anymore, while the British can all too often be found sacrilegiously eating pasta on a Sunday..

Sadly it seems the great home-cooked family roast dinner is not as obligatory as it once was, although personally if I cook anything else on a Sunday it simply doesn’t feel like Sunday.

We’re all very keen on having somebody else cook a roast for us though, and up and down the country UK pubs all put on a Sunday roast, while the Carverys are packed out.

Bistro Bleu is actually a restaurant above a pub, the recently refurbished Rugby Tavern. It’s only a ten minute walk from Tottenham Court Road tube, but it seems a world away.

Hidden amid Bloomsbury’s streets of gorgeous Georgian houses it feels properly local and few tourists will ever stumble across it, which is their loss. They’ll probably end up paying twice as much for a roast that’s not even half as good back ‘in town’.

The upstairs room is Gallic in decoration, with a lot of blue unsurprisingly, and is very warm and welcoming on a cold day.  

The £30 three course Sunday lunch here is a simple menu, as is standard, and from the starters we choose a duck and chicken liver parfait with a pear and saffron compote, with some baguette of course. We also try, as it sounds unusual, broccoli and cauliflower tempura with a basil mayo.

It’s a very good pate, smooth as butter and rich as Croesus, the compote tempering that richness well. A couple more slices of baguette would have been nice though, and I would have liked some chilled butter with my pate, but my partner tells me that would be ‘gross’ so I didn’t ask.

Her tempura is something of a mixed bag. Both vegetables are a bit too waterlogged, and the tempura is sketchy – rock hard in places, flabby in others. An hour later I see the same dish going out to some new arrivals and it looks a lot better done, so I think as early lunchers we’d perhaps suffered from’ first pancake out the pan’ syndrome.

On to the roast. The Scottish Striploin beef is a £4 supplement, which seems a bit odd as beef is THE Sunday roast, and not a special choice, but there is chicken, pork belly and a veggie option of a butternut, kale and mushroom Wellington too.

All the dishes come with classic accompaniments –  viz roast potatoes, maple roasted root vegetables, Yorkshire pudding, buttered greens and a rosemary and thyme gravy.

The beef is actually superb, so I take back my gripe about the supplement. Perfectly tender and packed with flavour. The veg are all flavourful,  the gravy is excellent and there’s just enough of it. I really hate it when my roast is floating in gravy.

I also hate comedy Yorkshire Puds too, ones as  big as a stetson and equally out of place. This one is crispy and soft in all the right places and I can still see my plate beneath it. No mustard is in sight, but lashings of horseradish sauce, the English Wasabi, is ideal with the fine beef

P’s meal is on the same canvas, but slow roasted pork belly replaces beef, while applesauce subs for the horseradish. She reports the fat is crispy where it should be and the pork perfect. Plate cleared.

We drink off a very French-sized 50cl carafe of red wine, which is just enough, and it’s a decent drop of house wine too. More restaurants should have 50cl options.

Desserts are a French twist on the traditional with an Apple and cinnamon spring roll, purbeck vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce all neatly upscaling a traditional apple pie with crispy, filo, pastry. My Sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce is a good example of what is now a gastropub staple, but it’s much lighter than usual and more delicate, if a sticky toffee pudding can ever really be described as that.

The room is packed by the time we leave, a good mix of couples and families. Obviously word has got around – Le Bistro Bleu does a Dimanche Dinner that rosbifs really like. Bien fait!


19 Great James St, London WC1N 3ES

Images supplied by Le Bistro Bleu