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“Welcome back Mon. Loubet” we’ve missed you...

In the autumn of 2009, Pierre Koffman’s wildy successful pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges put down a marker for honest French food. Hurtful people would have been tempted to describe Koffman’s cooking as old-fashioned, but one diner’s old-fashioned is another’s authentic, traditional and delicious.
I like my food simple. I like it when the chef has a feel for tradition. I would rather have strong flavours and a thoughtful balance of textures than multi-element towers of over-presented complexity. A decade ago Bruno Loubet had a good following serving honest French food at L’Odeon and Bistro Bruno, then he left to work in Australia. Now he’s back and his food has got even better.
The dining room at the Zetter lies in a curve around the bar. For some while it has offered various takes on Mediterranean food and has been steadily busy without being rammed. Mon. Loubet has changed all that. Bistrot Bruno Loubet is hot. You need to book. You’ll need to book early. This is no place for pitching up on the off-chance. The food is good. Very good. It treads a delicate path between tradition and originality. Ingredients like quinoa, preserved lemons, dried mandarin puree, harissa and lardo di Colonnata are not typical of old-style French cuisine. But with Loubet’s dishes all the flavours are in your face and all the presentation is unfussy.
“Revised Lyonnaise salad and Beaujolais dressing” is a magnificent plateful – crisp fried fingers of pigs’ trotter (treated very like crubeens), a runny egg, leaves. Delicious. “Beetroot ravioli, fried breadcrumbs and sage with rocket salad” – great flavours. “Mauricette snails and meatballs with royale de champagne” gloriously rich and earthy. On to the mains – a “Blanquette de veau”, classical, creamy, melting tender veal, worth a detour on its own. “Confit lamb shoulder white bean and preserved lemon with green harissa” an adroit mix of flavours. “Pan fried breast of wood pigeon, cauliflower, almond and quinoa and giblet sauce” a very satisfying dish, the gritty quinoa works well with the close grained pigeon meat. Desserts range from “Valrhona chocolate tartlet, caramel and salted butter ice cream” to a masterly “Brioche, crème fraiche and rhubarb tart”.
This is good food and catches the current mood, it’s unfussy and gently priced (starters £6.50-£8.50; mains £14-£19; desserts £5-£6.50). The service is crisp and Gallic. The wine list lengthy. The atmosphere jolly. Please God, let this restaurant be the start of a trend towards simple and satisfying dishes. 1st March 2010

Bistrot Bruno, St John’s Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 (020 7324 4455 www.bistrobrunoloubet.com)

Charles Campion - Tuesday 30th March 2010

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