"It's not much but it's ours"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Don’t call it a comeback.

Bruno Loubet may well have been away from the capital for the best part of the last decade, but it is not like all he was doing was laying on a beach while he was in Brisbane. It was obvious from last night’s meals that he has returned to London with all his considerable skills in the kitchen very much intact.

Hermano Primero and I have quite a history with Bruno Loubet. L’Hippocampe (where Arbutus now stands) was the first place where HP ever dropped £100 on a meal in the early 1990’s. L’Odeon, one of the great gastrodomes that were all the rage fifteen years ago, was one of the first places I did the same. We both liked his brief foray into Moroccan food at Bruno Soho and his presence in the kitchens during the opening weeks of Isola’s existence even persuaded us to visit a gaff run by Oliver Peyton, our least favourite restauranteur in London.

Things were obviously not right as we approached the Millennium, however and HP’s last sighting of Bruno was disconsolately sucking on a cigarette outside of Mash, another Peyton joint just after the turn of the new century. He disappeared soon after and we assumed that his skills had been lost to consultancy and private dining in the way that so many good chefs of the time had gone (think David Cavalier)

When I found out, later on that he had opened up a series of restaurants down under in Brisbane to great acclaim, I assumed that he had decided to leave the capricious world of London dining behind for good. So, it was a surprise when rumours of his return began to appear on Twitter and even more of a surprise when they turned out to be true.

The Zetter Hotel, home of the former football pools company, may seem like an unlikely venue for a star chef to make his return, but they have done a great job with the room. I found HP already examining the menu at a table to the rear of the restaurant when I arrived and one glimpse reassured me that any fears of Loubet bringing back packets of galangal and lemongrass with him from Australia were unfounded.

The menu is supposed to present a modern, lighter take on Loubet’s bistro cooking, but appeared pretty much as we remembered and once the waiter announced that there was a starter of Scallops with Black Pudding (one of his signature dishes back in the 1990’s) the whole evening felt like putting on the most comfortable pair of slippers.

Our first tastes of our starters reminded us why we had always been such big fans. HP’s “Mauricette Snails and meatballs with royal de champignons” was Bruno’s cheffy take on a favourite dish of his mothers. Everything about it was, to use a word that HP repeated throughout the evening “textbook” with meaty snails, delicate veal meatballs and a tomato sauce that exuded sweetness. My own guinea fowl boudin blanc was even better, perhaps showing the new approach, with a feather light sausage of an almost mousse like texture sitting in a light broth studded with carrots, ham and barley flavoured with the addition of chervil.

I could easily have ordered every main course dish, but chose the veal dish of the day, which was a piece of rolled breast, served with gnocchi and leeks. HP went for the already much lauded dish of Hare Royale with onion raviolo and a puree of pumpkin and dried mandarin. Both dishes showed a richness that might well be considered unfashionable today, but although both were unapologetically full on, they were pitch perfect with no sign of the fierce reduction that seems to be the blight on so many meat dishes in high end places. The hare shredded perfectly to release its gamey steam, while the veal broke apart with just a touch of the knife.

The gnocchi were light, but retained a bite and the pumpkin purree with mandarin complimented the hare sauce in the same way a daube benefits from having a slice of orange peel as it cooks. HP said it again, as he spooned a blob of perfect potato dauphinoise from bowl to mouth “textbook”

Neither of us could recall what desserts were like at Loubet’s previous restaurants, which probably says more about our ambivalence than their quality. Here, almost inevitably, HP went for a selection of ice cream while I chose a chocolate tartlet with caramel and salted butter ice cream. The ice creams were disappointing with only a small scoop of morello cherry flavoured deemed worthy of him finishing. But, the tart was spot on, the casing cracking under the pressure of my spoon and the inside served slightly warm so the chocolate oozed out onto the plate.

With some coffee and fresh mint tea, it made a lovely end to a lovely meal and one that with a bottle of something punchy from the Laungedoc came to £117 including service. That seemed like a fair amount for three courses of excellent cooking by one of our all time favourite chefs, particularly when put in context of some of the more dispiriting experiences we have had recently.

It would be easy to go overboard with Loubet’s return to London particularly as he is obviously still cooking with considerable enthusiasm and producing dishes of the highest level. There should be more places in London like this, but then again there should be more chefs in London like Bruno Loubet.

A very welcome return indeed.

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Blogger keefab said...

"a feather light sausage of an almost mousse like texture"...sounds to me like a saveloy, Simon...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 1:50:00 p.m.  
Blogger Andy Lynes said...

This restaurant has been open since Monday and you leave it until Tuesday night to post your review? I'm sorry, it's just not good enough. Next time, go for lunch and get your stuff online in time for me to decide if I want to book for dinner the same day.

Also, why no picture of the dining room?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 5:04:00 p.m.  
Blogger Hermano 2 said...

Actually, Wednesday morning, Andy. I wanted to give it time to "bed in" Fortunately, Bruno being a pro and not a money grabber like so many, it didn't need time to bed in and was terrific and you should go as soon as you can. it will remind you of how good restaurants used to be.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010 5:08:00 p.m.  
Blogger Andy Lynes said...

Hoping to be there very soon. Only ate Loubet's food once at L'Odeon and really looking forward to trying it again.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 6:18:00 p.m.  
Anonymous The Grubworm said...

I was a bit sad that the Zetter's dining room had closed it's doors, but hadn't processed what had opened up in it's place. I'm now quite excited.

Thie area around Farringdon seems to be turning into a bit of a foodie hothouse - Here, Eastside Inn, Portal, St John, Vinoteca, the Gascon family...

Thursday, February 25, 2010 8:50:00 a.m.  
Anonymous Carl Y. said...

When Loubet left,he apparently said to his staff "I'll be back" in true Arnie style.....seems he has indeed returned,and London is the better for it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010 12:04:00 p.m.  
Anonymous MrP said...

While the place is done up quite nicely, it seems that everyone there was reliving an experience in Loubet's restaurant from long ago, as evidenced by the chatter from neighboring tables.

On a recent visit the food was hit and miss. My Lamb shoulder, stuffed into a giant casing was warm on the outside, and still chilled in the middle from its time in the cooler. Even the warm bit lacked proper seasoning, everything overpowered by the fat, and the accompaniments were bland and non complementary.
My dining companion's roast pigeon however, was done almost perfectly, and the reduction was good enough to drink by the glass. There was however a bit too many bits of sliced cauliflower adorning the plate.
The service was fine except for the waiter nervously fluttering around the table constantly.
I'll second your review of the chocolate tartlet, spot on, but with the ice cream leaving something to be desired.
I'll give it one more try only due to how well the pigeon was done, but there's no excuse for anything remotely resembling the lamb shoulder to be anywhere near the menu, hot or cold.

PS Always enjoy your reviews!

Friday, February 26, 2010 11:11:00 a.m.  
Anonymous gary marshall said...

it's a good job there's another northerner on the london scene now to inject some balance! went tuesday night with a chef mate, was ok but inverted lyonnaise salad actively unpleasant in several respects put us off, veal special ok, upsold wine. couldn't be bothered to stay for dessert, went to the eagle for a custard tart and pint. Didn't strike me as that special but i will accept there may be better choices on the menu than ours. £97 for 1 wine, 2 starter 2 main and service, hmmm.

Friday, March 05, 2010 8:15:00 p.m.  
Blogger Hermano 1 said...

God save us from moaning Northeners. You should have gone when we went - it were great.

I did notice though that they were (deliberately?) not at full capacity when we went - coincidence? Who knows?


Saturday, March 06, 2010 9:06:00 a.m.  
Anonymous gary marshall said...

that may explain it, they looked hammered rather than unable to cook , if you know what i mean, like, our kid.

Monday, March 08, 2010 4:42:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

I'm off to dine there tonight - will be interesting to see how our opinions compare...

Thursday, March 11, 2010 4:58:00 p.m.  
Blogger Derek said...

Went there last week and found the food pretty good, Boudin was light and tasty, the Rabbit was really good full of gamey goodness. I do like the chocolate tart and the Ice cream too, personally I found the salt brings the whole dish together, I would agree with the Gentleman above if they added too much salt to the ice cream(which I tried in a restaurant in London that I wont name) but fortunately it was not the case.

Sunday, March 14, 2010 2:14:00 p.m.  
Anonymous tonimoroni said...

Had lunch there yesterday and enjoyed the flavours of two courses (the snails and sole) so much I had a pudding. Raspberries and passion fruit on a pastry base with a little cream. Very good indeed. Temepted to go back for more today!

Thursday, August 19, 2010 9:09:00 a.m.  

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