Last week, I met Gourmet Chick and Londonelicious for dinner at Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell. I’d been there once before, back in March, soon after the bistro had opened in the Zetter hotel, and that time, the food had been very good. Clerkenwell is perfectly located between work and home for me, so I was glad to pay it a return visit when the three of us were debating where to eat. (The beauty of dining out with other food bloggers is that choosing the venue is half the fun).
Things got off to a bumpy start when the day of our reservation arrived. The bistrot called to confirm, and in classic passive-aggressive fashion, they asked if it’d be “OK” that they’d need the table back after two hours. I asked if I really had a choice and added that it would have been nice to know this policy in advance (for example, when I was making the booking originally). The restaurant’s response was that it was hard for them to know in advance that they’d need the table back at a certain time, which is kind of crap. How do other restaurants – who don’t limit the amount of time you can have the table – estimate turnover times?
Anyway, to make a long story short, at the two-hour mark, we were asked to pay our bill or move to the hotel bar. I was supremely non-plussed and felt like I was getting booted out. The first time I ate at Bruno Loubet, I enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal with family friends, and this second time around, I left feeling kind of cranky, which is too bad, because our server that evening was attentive and helpful and generally everything you want in a server, really.
On to the food – like Gourmet Chick, I chose the revised Lyonnaise salad for a starter, and although I remember loving it the first time I ate at Bruno Loubet (poached egg and bacon on greens – what’s not to love?), this time around, I thought the greens-to-toppings ratio could’ve been a lot higher. The generous amounts of crispy, salty bacon overwhelmed the frisee, and the egg was overcooked and not runny. Sad.
Guinea fowl boudin blanc (white sausage) was both impossibly light and heavy. The texture was memorably fluffy, but halfway through, the salt got to me, and I had trouble finishing the boudin. Good thing my dining companions wanted to try some, because otherwise, I would’ve been embarrassed that I hadn’t finished a meal comprised of a mere two starters.
Confit lamb shoulder was served in an unappetizing ball shape. And disappointingly, the lamb was dry and underseasoned, so I’m 100% in agreement with Gourmet Chick there.
Gourmet Chick’s pan-fried breast of wood pigeon was a winner, though the presentation was pretty hideous. Pigeon is too often served tough, but at Bruno Loubet, it was juicy, rare and had the richness that only offal can provide. If I weren’t so annoyed about the service, I’d say I’d return to BBL just to order this dish for myself next time.
Things being what they are, though, it’d take a lot to get me to return to Bistrot Bruno Loubet. Bar Boulud, where I’ve also been twice, delivers better service than BBL does; prices are similar, and Bar Boulud’s chop chop salad with lobster is still calling out to me. So, as handy as Clerkenwell is for me, Knightsbridge will be my destination the next time I’m looking for a casual bistro meal.
With a £30 bottle of wine and glasses of dessert wine, we paid £50 a person for dinner at BBL.
Bistrot Bruno Loubet, Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, EC1M 5RJ; 0207 324 4455; closest Tube station: Farringdon