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|Address:||The Zetter Hotel, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5RJ|
|Tel:||020 3463 0298|
|Price: £43.00||Wine: £15.95||Champagne: £49.95|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sun 7-10.30am 12N-2.30pm 6-10.30pm|
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We entered Bistrot Bruno Loubet behind a woman in spectacularly high Christian Loubetins, and the sight of her teetering to her table was almost enough to distract us from appreciating the under-stated style of the room. It curves round the ground floor of the Zetter hotel, overlooking one of Clerkenwell’s loveliest squares, history closing in on it from every side. Bruno Loubet’s return to London after a spell in Oz (lucky Brisbanians) is to be welcomed by all who remember his cooking from the previous Bistrot Bruno in Soho (where Arbutus now is, if I remember rightly) and from L’Odéon on Regent Street.
Loubet is a true artist in the kitchen: reinventing, re-invigorating, re-imagining and coaxing stunning marriages of French tradition with British produce at its best. One of our main courses perfectly encapsulated the Loubet Style. It was announced on the menu simply as ‘Roast Rabbit with “forgotten” root vegetables’ but in reality was a fabulous celebration of rabbit in a seasonally-derived and perfectly harmonious clothing. The rabbit was de-boned and wrapped in pancetta and then in a light almond crust – it looked slightly like a fishcake – and the taste was amazing, the sweetness of the bunny set off by the salty complexity of the cured pork. Rustic and sophisticated at the same time – divine! And I won’t quickly forget the forgotten roots (Jerusalem artichoke, salsify, beetroot and carrot). My partner had a fillet of sea bream sitting on a purée of cauliflower (with a touch of fennel?) surrounded by a sea of squid ink stew and an intensely flavoured purée of parsley sitting on top, providing a powerful, comforting top note.
And the starters were a joy too: a plate of antipasti, beautifully arranged on the plate, offering a constellation of individual flavours – roasted cherry tomatoes, aubergine, black olives, blood orange, fig, chicory and the softest fromage frais, lightly infused with onion or garlic. It was a perfect way to kick-start the taste buds. My partner opted for a boudin blanc of guinea fowl on a squash barley base – it was smooth and soft, and the risotto-esque foundation had the same comforting quality of a first-rate rice pudding, and some of the same sweetness and depth.
Puddings didn’t disappoint either: a very thin apple tart on the crispest of puff pastries, with a crème fraiche and cinnamon ice-cream – a French classic, and beautifully executed – and a chocolate Marquise with a salted caramel ice-cream, again done with great finesse and terrific mis-en-scène.
The service was perfect as only a largely French crew can deliver – young, attentive, charming, quietly efficient and friendly: nothing was forced, nothing was lax! (Why can’t we Brits offer that kind of effortless attention?)
Add in a bottle of robust Vin de Pays du Var and a couple of glasses of Jurançon and the bill, with service, came to £128 (which would probably pay for the red lacquer under a single Loubetin shoe!). It was worth every penny. A memorable meal, and a perfect end to a tough week.