Dark, cosy and romantic. It's a restaurant that wraps you up in a slightly sexy cuddle, like a beautiful older French lady wearing her lover's jumper. Imagine a ramshackle and quaint bistro, with disarmingly efficient and yet laid back staff, a wine list curated by someone with a keen eye for a bargain and fantastically fresh, unstuffy fare prepared from whatever the chef feels is best at the market that week. The menu is handwritten before being photocopied, the wine list changes weekly. Paper cloths, mis-matching furniture and spluttering wine bottle candlesticks certainly aren't contrived, but certainly won't help win them a star.
With such atmosphere, it's all we can do to stop ourselves ripping our clothes off then and there, but I didn't get the stomach I've got today by ignoring my basest food based desires at the exclusion of all others, so we dived into the menu instead. Firm fleshed smoked eel comes with beetroot chutney and horseradish cream, complex but perfectly balanced mix of sharp and milky smooth flavour and soft but crunchy texture. I also somewhat share my obliging guest's cauliflower and cumin fritters. A firm patty fried and served with a delicate raita.
The mains follow a similar rustic tack. There's nothing too challenging here, though the kitchen isn't afraid of a little nose to tail eating, when appropriate. A muscular and resolutely unthreatened hunk of fresh cod wearing a cape of herbs reclines royally on a bed of wilted spinach and tomato coated broad beans. It's not elegant, but my god does it taste good. And that's what little I managed to scavenge from under my guest's now watchful eyes.
An Angus beef shepherd's pie on the lunchtime menu didn't make it as far as the evening, I was smugly informed by our waiter it had wound up as the staff lunch. A shame, as I'd had my eye on it since walking past earlier and seeing it on the board outside. Um'ing and ah'ing between a seafood paella, heaving with langoustine and shellfish, and a lamb shank I was finally able to kick the menu Tourettes and dug into one of the best bits of throwaway lamb I can remember. Sinking into a quicksand of pureed potato, it bravely clung onto a thick branch of perfectly cooked cabbage. To no avail, I drowned it in a thick gamey gravy and slowly stripped the soft, succulent meat from the thick bone.
Sated, though with just enough room to share a treacle tart from the trencherman's list, the end of the excellent rose Sancerre turned my thoughts to matters romantic once more. We gazed at each other over the drippy candle and sighed… deeply… There's no doubt that the mood and the food provokes, but like Macbeth's porter and his wine, while it provokes the desire its sheer volume takes away any possibility of the performance.
Reservations are only taken a week out, which is useful to know, and I find the upstairs a (tiny) bit more pleasant than the seating downstairs. Just don't ask for my table, or I'll really have to kill you.