8 Horner Square, Old Spitalfield Market, London, E1 6EW |website
It’s located on the first floor! I tell you this because otherwise, like me, you’ll probably walk around in ever more frustrated circles trying to find the bloody place. For some reason the revamped Spitalfields market sees no reason to include Le Bouchon Breton on any of their signage, at least not as far as I could see through a thickening red mist.
Thank God then that when you do finally walk in, ready for lunch and ready to strangle someone, the cheerful Gallic welcome is warm and genuine and the cooking superb. So many places try and do the Parisian Bistro thing, a largely mythical place now even in Paris itself, and so many get it cul sur apex in the process. Le Bouchon Breton doesn’t have an interior made to look like it’s been pickled by centuries of smoke from the mouths of absinthe-swilling poets and wall-eyed existentialists, but it is unashamedly and pleasantly pastiche. If Heston Blumenthal owned this place, he’d be pumping Gauloise and Gitane aromas through the air conditioning as well as buggering up the frites.
The menu with the old style fonts is standard Brasserie size so you have to peer around it to talk to your dining companion but is packed with things you really want to eat. So much so in fact that you know you’re going to be able to come here time after time (income permitting) to try them all. Which is pretty much how the Parisian Brasserie of your dreams should be. Oysters? Langoustines? Crabs? I love them but today we have to try the cooking and blow me, but there are frittered frogs’ legs on the menu so one of us has to taste that while I go for smoked eel, a dish I have come to love over the last year. This one is the best so far, as smoky as my clothes on bonfire night, pleasantly firm and with a cracking beetroot remoulade, the beetroot al dente and sweet and well counter pointed by the horseradish cream. Over the table my guest is busy gnawing his frogs legs, ‘nice batter, great legs,’ he says as I steal some of his tartare sauce, which is good and tart and chunky.
With a wine list 700 strong we simply asked front-of-house head and sommelier François Bertrand for a recommendation on a St Emilion and were brought a Chateau Magnan Le Gaffeliere 1998 at a reasonable £45. This was an excellent drop of red, reminding me just why I shouldn’t drink Aussie jam with any kind of decent cooking. I mean how many restaurants would put fresh kidneys on the menu? And veal kidneys at that? Now that’s what I call grub and I ordered it without a second thought, pan fried with tarragon sauce and still pink and bloody in the centre they were quite excellent, the vague smell of urine reminding me of family breakfasts years ago. No my parents weren’t incontinent, but they did like their kidneys on a weekend. Tagliatelle tangled underneath was cooked just right and made for inelegant but happy eating.
Chef Nicolas Laridan worked at Le Gavroche and Michel Roux himself is a consultant here and it definitely shows. I couldn’t get much feedback from my mate on the Ox cheeks braised in red wine sauce with baby onions, mushrooms and lardons, other than vague knife waving and happy nodding with mouth full. He liked it a lot apparently, saying later it was proper food – rich, deeply flavoured, substantial and the sort of meal that made an afternoon of Death by PowerPoint back in the office look even less attractive than usual.
Desserts of Crème Brulee and Chocolate Mousse didn’t quite rise to the heights of the starters and mains, but for me desserts seldom do. I do wish I could have had the cheese, which looked great, but late for a meeting I had to waddle off. Bouchon actually means plug in French, so here it is. This place is the bee’s knees and I loved everything but its daft location. Allez vite and enjoy a great Gallic meal.