Bistro was a term co-opted from the Russian occupation of Paris in 1814, its original meaning being ‘hurry’. In effect, it embodies the style of cuisine that, while being delicious, is quick to prepare. Perfect for the French dejeuner, which has become a Gallic institution. Ever egalitarian, even builders pile off for a ‘prix fixe’ at lunchtime.
Compared with French a la carte, bistro menus tend to be short and revolve around time-honoured classics, again speeding up the process of ordering. No decision fatigue here. What better than to serve in the upstairs restaurant to a pub?
The reputation of Bistro Bleu has been spreading rapidly since it opened in August so a visit was long overdue. The place is run by Parisian-born General Manager Reynald Tel and Head Chef Bernard Dumonteil from Lorraine in North Eastern France. Its location is in a leafy crook of streets in the heart of Bloomsbury, with an attractive seating terrace heralding the newly refurbished pub. The Rugby Tavern is a classic corner pub with a warm welcome. Upstairs, they have created a rather special space, light by day, cosy by night. Tall windows are bordered by swagged ginger velvet curtains that ping against the dark blue walls.
At lunchtime, their Prix Fixe menu is hard to fault at £29 for three courses, though we attended their evening a la carte service. Each table has its own table lamp that creates an intimate, flattering glow off the white marble top. With only 38 covers, the atmosphere is both exclusive yet convivial – we inadvertently ended up chatting with guests either side of us. As the French would say, ‘ils ont une bonne table’ referring to great food in good company.
For starters I ordered the duck and chicken liver parfait, served with tradition baguette slices and a pear and saffron compote, which was gorgeous. My guest had the treacle cured salmon with picked carrots and granny smit apple, which was very pretty and equally delicious.
We went for thighs for our main courses. Mine was the Braised leg of rabbit served with a bacon, mushroom, pearl onion and tarragon sauce accompanied by buttery linguine. It was farmed rabbit, so paler and less tough than wild, and the sauce was perfect for a winter’s night. But the star turn was the crispy duck leg on a bed of swede and carrot purée, spiced confit red cabbage and a port and orange sauce. It was heaven – somewhere between ‘a l’orange’ and Crispy duck with hoisin. The red cabbage was dark and rich, sour yet sweet, the purée balanced, smooth and colourful.
The side of green beans were presented with the same garlic butter as they use for the snails, which to my mind somewhat drowned the other flavours on the plate.
The bottle of Cave De Tain ‘Origine 1933’ Crozes Hermitage we shared was really very special for £35. A 2015, it was full of berry and earthy tones and a great wine.
To finish I tried the warm chocolate and walnut cake with praline Chantilly. The Blonde nosed it so it wasn’t as moist as you might hope , though otherwise rich and delicious. The other dessert was apple and cinnamon roll with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce; Filo pastry, correctly tart apple (baking apples really aren’t a thing in France) and a cinnamon aroma that rises up to taunt you. With the vanilla ice cream, this was excellent.
This was a very special evening, which delivered on every level. Bistro Bleu is very hard to fault, delivering superb cuisine for very affordable prices in a beautiful environment. We intend to return to enjoy a ‘lost afternoon’ of Sunday roast very soon.