Archive for January 16th, 2007

Le Sacre Coeur Bistro, Islington

On Friday night, Jon and I browsed one of our favorite cookbooks, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, for inspiration. We love the prose, explanations, and recipes, but what really sucks us in and gets the tummy rumbling are the gorgeous photos of bistro food.

Not feeling up to cooking a Thomas Keller meal that night (but which we cooked later in the weekend, on Sunday – the mussels mariniere recipe with the kick of mustard and saffron is genius), even if it was from Keller’s “simple” bistro cookbook, we walked around the corner to Theberton Street and tried Le Sacre Coeur bistro.

Honestly, why did it take us so long to try it out? Perhaps complacency born of knowing it’s just around the corner? We’ve lived in this neighborhood for a year and a half now; several French colleagues of Jon’s have highly recommended it; and by London standards, it’s modestly priced (i.e., main courses for £11-18).So we dropped by at around 8:30 hoping for a walk in. C’est un bistro, after all. But despite claims to casualness, the place was packed, so we accepted a reservation for 9:45. We walked home and got a head start on our meal with some wine and cheese, and then walked back to claim our table sometime around 10 pm.The restaurant was still packed. A good sign considering the hour (this isn’t Spain, you know).The dining room is small, dark and cosy. The tables close together. Bistro decor – check.We were squished into a corner table near the kitchen, which was not ideal, but hey, we were there for a quick, local dinner, not to celebrate anything. To my right was a young Asian couple. The man spoke English with a British accent, and his companion spoke in British-accented English to him, and in flawless French to the servers (who all spoke French, bien sur, and were friendly). This is one of the things that I love about London – that people can have occasion to speak other languages in public places without seeming pretentious. Nobody seems anxious to assimilate here, which has its pros and cons for society, I think, but as a perma-tourist of sorts, I enjoy listening to all these different languages.
Jon started with French onion soup, which looked covered in too-thick a layer of cheese, but which Jon said was pretty good once you peeled off the cheese layer. His beef stew special was savory but a little tough, which is sad given how relatively easy a dish it is to make (i.e., just cook it for a long time!). But I think the buttery mashed potatoes saved that main course in Jon’s eyes.My smoked duck salad was as salty and meaty as I’d hoped, but the dressing was too oily.I’d say the main reason we’d check out the place again is because my main course was exactly what we were looking for: hearty and flavorful. I had ordered a wild boar stew, which was probably braised in the same sauce Jon’s beef was cooked in – some red wine, shallots, carrots, bacon. Unlike Jon’s beef, however, my wild boar was fork tender and juicy. If I could have traded my new potatoes for Jon’s mashed ones, we would be talking the perfect winter bistro dish. Eaten with a strong Cotes du Rhone, my main course was the perfect antidote to a cold winter night.Overall, at £50 for the two of us, I’d give the place another try, but I’m not in a rush.
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