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Le Bouchon Breton, Spitalfields Market, London E1

Le Bouchon Breton
8 Horner Square
Spitalfields Market
London E1
Tel: 0800 019 1704

Opening a restaurant now the credit crunch has begun to bite is a brave move, however newcomer Le Bouchon Breton is obviously doing something right. When I visited it at lunchtime, it was bustling with a very vibrant crowd who looked as if they had never heard of the word recession. The restaurant overlooks old Spitalfields Market in a very modern glass and steel development, giving diners a fascinating view of the sea of activity taking place beneath in this historic setting. There’s also a large terrace where you can dine in a more alfresco atmosphere. Tables are generally well-spaced with some of the seating being in a plush red banquette style. Vibrant Gallic music is played maybe a touch too loudly and the general mood is upbeat with professional but friendly service.

The place has the look and feel of a traditional Parisian brasserie with the beauty being you can eat what you want, when you want, as the menu is available throughout the day and into the evening with no structured time for kitchen closures. It is even open for breakfast which is served right through till 5pm at the weekends and includes a great blow out style fry-up, perfect for those nasty hangovers. Behind the scenes is a name long associated with fine dining, that of Michel Roux Jr. here in the form of menu consultant. (He also is credited for creative input at the sister dining room, Le Bouchon Bordelais in Wandsworth). Together with Head Chef Nicolas Laridan, (Ex-Head Chef for the past seven years of the prestigious Le Gavroche) they have created a menu that should please passionate Francophile foodies like myself.

The first thing that caught my eye was the amazing cheese trolley. With over 40 types of regional French cheese on offer, (all groaning with maturity and just calling out to be eaten), this is the sort of thing one can normally only find in London’s finest and most expensive French restaurants. A whole plethora of seafood features heavily too, with deliveries of Breton shellfish brought in daily. This makes it possible to sit and graze to your heart’s content on a whole host of various platters, including oysters, crabs, whelks and winkles. For meat lovers there is a whole section devoted to various cuts sourced from the equivalent of Eton in its pedigree and breeding. In France a Menu Du Jour is de rigour and I was glad to see one was offered here. At £15 for two courses and £18 for three, it makes eating out that much more affordable.

I began with a classic fish soup served with accompanying rouille, croutons and gruyere cheese. This was as good as any I have eaten, with a satisfying interior and obviously a properly made, labour intensive stock. Our other choice, frog’s legs fritters with Tartare Sauce was a little more disappointing. Although the batter was fabulous, being crunchy and light, the accompanying dip was a little overpowering, and perhaps a wedge of lemon would have been a better alternative. To follow, I had a boeuf pot au feu served with boiled potatoes, carrots and a thin broth. It was a perfectly executed example of traditional French rustic cuisine. My guest tried the braised ox cheek in a rich red wine sauce with baby onions, mushrooms and lardons. It was served with a intense gravy and a silky mash, and was a rich array of intense flavours with the meat tender and silky in its texture. Throughout the afternoon I drank a very palatable French Cotes de Gascogne Colombard 2007, which at £5.00 a glass seemed a relative bargain.

The temptation of the cheese trolley would have to be left for another day as we were in the mood for something sweet. From the menu of various desserts and fancy ices we chose a comforting Tarte Tartin, with pleasing flavours and a delicate pastry. The warm apple filling proving a wonderful contrast to the chill of the ice-cream. An orgy of perfect profiteroles came piled high and were served with a twist in that the interior was ice cold vanilla ice cream. Served with plenty of dark chocolate sauce they proved a fabulous end to our feasting. Now that winter is upon us in all its misery this is somewhere to come and warm the cockles of your heart with good wine, good food and good company, whilst spoiling yourself with a large measure of traditional French hospitality.

Louise Elgin. November 2008.

A menu for two with wine and water and service is around £50 a head.

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