Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
A Napoleon complex is an overcompensation for being small, born of a little Frenchman who (if truth be told) did rather (over) compensate for his diminutive statute by way of many (good or bad depending on your perspective) achievements. Yes there was the military stuff we all know about, but he was also responsible for many things that continue to feature heavily in French society today (including the legal framework in the form of the code Napoléon).
I personally don’t see it as a bad thing, to be honest, if you achieve greatness as compensation for your diminutive stature. More power to you I say.
This brings me to the Little French, a smallish restaurant located a short walk (all up hill on a rather warm day regrettably, it was a much easier waddle back) from my friend’s rather palatial pad (no not jealous at all, not one little bit) in Bristol.
This place (the Little French, not my mate’s house) has been showered with stellar reviews waxing lyrically (rather than my dylexic ramblings) as to the pleasure of its distinctly French focused offering. Little it may be, but it comes with a big reputation.
Being over in Bristol for a Friday evening T20 game (watching rather than participating – was a very good game),
I decided to make a bit of a day of it to see if the hype surrounding the Little French was justified (Spoiler alert: it is).
I, therefore, booked a half day and a table at the Little French for a leisurely lunch in preparation for an evening at the cricket (the diabolical traffic up to the Brynglas tunnels made it rather less leisurely start than I would have liked with the journey taking twice as long as it should – luckily I had built in a wide enough margin, only just enough as it transpired).
It is run by a husband and wife team, with the kitchen in the hands of Freddy Bird, who I had a lot of time for when he headed up the kitchen at the Bristol Lido in Clifton. Many a good meal was had there by me when it was the meeting place for Jeroboam Club tastings.
Inside the Little French is very upmarket French Bistro.
Comfy without being fussy. I liked its refined simplicity. My only criticism was the tables are a touch close together. On leaving I managed to nearly knock over a glass (luckily it righted itself) and then knocked a side plate off the adjacent table (miraculously it didn’t break). I am a clumsy bugger, but there is very little room for manoeuvre even for those (basically everybody) more dexterous than me.
Front of house staff know their way around both the menu and the wine list and are happy to make recommmendations based on likes/dislikes, which is always a good sign.
The French bistro feel tracks through to the food, with a lovely menu full of dishes that appealed to me.
This presented that most delicious of dilemmas in terms of choosing from a menu where you fancy every item on it.
There is a plat du jour dish (£15, including a glass of wine – serious bargain that) which changes regularly. I saw a few days before it was pigeon and another day rabbit,
but on the day of my visit it was a salmon dish. Not my favourite fish, if I am honest, and there was stuff of much more interest on the main menu for me.
Making the most of my free afternoon I decided to go full on piggy (as you do) and started proceedings off with a bar snack.
I have to say you know you are on to a winner when the bar snacks in a place include milk fed lamb’s kidneys and carpaccio of wild prawn. Real statement of intent I would say!
I have never been a huge fan of kidneys (traumatised by the abominations served up to me in my school days), with my memory being of urea/pissy smelling/tasting nuggets of crumbly dryness. I am, however, always willing to have my mind changed on a subject and my palate have certainly evolved since my youth.
Reports as to the loveliness of the kidneys had come from a very reliable Bristol source (in the form of @PXandTarts on Twitter and Instagram) so I decided to give these a go as a pre starter.
Whilst these were not lookers, they were everything my memories of kidneys were not and fantastic value at £5.50. Surrounded by melt in the mouth creamy fat, they were tender, juicy and full of flavour.
Cooked on point with a nice pinkness, they expunged from my memory the horrors of rock hard pellets of p#ss and replaced them with delightful baubles of joyful pinkness. Dunked in the Dijon mustard on the plate, these were a truimph. If you don’t like kidneys try these and I defy you not to be a kidney convert. If you like kidneys prepare to be wowed.
Next up was the starter and I sought the advice of the front of house as to what to go for, wanting nothing too filling (judging from other tables portion sizes were large) with the main and a pud to come.
They suggested the clams (£8.50), which was an excellent call.
Beautiful sweet, these were bathing in a top notch olive oil, fresh herbs and copious amounts of garlic. Wild black pepper added an interesting touch of earthiness and citrus fruitiness.
Excellent bread was supplied, without request, to mop up the clam juice and garlic infused olive oil
Lovely stuff, with the portion size just right in the context of what came before and what was to come.
In hindsight the kidney’s may have been better placed as a meaty interlude between the starter and the main, but I was more than happy with both dishes.
On the mains, I was torn between the wood grilled Pyrenean lamb, the rabbit (such a good value, tasty, meat that should be seen on more menus in the UK) and the duck. After a bit of indecision (in a nice, I want everything, way) I went for the duck (£19.50) and gave myself a pat on the back when it arrived.
Beautifully tender slices of duck (cooked “on the money” rare) with the fat rendered down and a properly crispy salty skin. It had a wonderful flavour to it.
I am not usually a huge fan of fruit as a savory (pineapple on pizza being a despicable thing in my opinion), but here the mound of sweet, ripe, figs loaded with cassis were a perfect adjunct to the main event duck (a meat that works so well with sweet).
Below the very generous portion of duck was a copious mound of cubed, garlic and rosemary, potatoes. Lots of crispy, gnarly, bits on these and vampire proofing levels of garlic. The final accompaniment to this dish were some French beans that had that textbook squeakiness, as I bit into them, that shows they had been cooked just right.
Some may quibble as to the lack of “top and tailing”, but if they taste as good as these ones did who really cares?
Classic French bistro stuff this, which needs to be perfectly executed (no room for error) to hit the mark. Here it was a gem of a dish.
On to the puds, again the menu presented that “what to go for” dilemma. Did I opt for, that bistro classic, chocolate mousse? If I did I would miss out on on the delights of the peaches and raspberries in sauternes and the local cheddar strawberries and chantilly cream. Decisions, delightful decisions.
I decided on the prune and armagnac tart with crème anglaise.
Lovely dessert this, with boozy prunes, a delightfully short and crisp pastry and a soft yielding flavour packed filling. No chance of a soggy bottom in this place.
On the wines front there is, unsurprisingly, a clear French focus. I know (from the Jeroboam Club in Bristol) the chap who supplies a lot of the wine to this place and thus am unsurprised that it is a good, interesting, list.
I did asked (somewhat speculatively) if they had any sherries. I thought an amontillado or an aged fino (on its way to an amontillado) would work a treat with the lamb kidneys. Alas my suspicion (of there being no sherries) was confirmed.
I started off with a small glass of a refreshing rolle (vermentino) from Provence (£6.75 for a 125ml glass/£38 bottle) from Domaine de la Navicelles.
Lovely aromas of orchard and tropical fruits, with a nice lick of almonds on the palate. Very pleasant with the clams. I had two glasses of this, as the first one went down rather easily.
On the reds, I was tempted by the pinot noir (such a good pairing with duck)
but I am increasingly finding cabernet franc (be it French or South African) to my taste and now look out for it on lists (not enough Cab Franc on lists in UK restaurants in my humble opinion). Here the list had examples from both Countries (and also one from Italy), but only the French one (a Chinon) by the glass (£9.00/175ml glass and £36.50 a bottle) Not a bad mark up here as it retails at up to £17.50.
Very easy drinking drop this, with cherries on the nose and palate and a touch on spice on the latter. Worked well paired with the duck I thought.
With pudding, I was intrigued by the Cornish Mena Hweg, on the list at a seemingly very reasonable £3.50 for a glass.
Really rather fine drop this, being medium sweet rather than full on sticky.
Ripe apples, stone fruits, a touch of citrus and a nice refreshing acidity all made it very enjoyable. Reminicent of a Mosel’s Kabinett or even Spätlese, it was a fine pairing with the tart I had for dessert. Bargain at £3.50 for a decent pour as it retails at £14 a bottle. I am in Cornwall later this month and will certainly be trying to get hold of this wine.
At the back of the list is an “old and rare” section
and my eyes were drawn to the Spanish section. The Prado Enea 1991 is a rare (and beguilingly beautiful) beast and at £138 is actually a bit of bargain as I have seen it retail, if you can find it, at nigh on that price or more. Chatting to the sommelier, he said the pricing (very fair) of the old and rare part of the list was to get people really into wine through the door. I know a fair few Jeroboam Club members who would be very happy exploring that element of the list.
If I had one criticism (forgiving them the lack of sherry) regarding the wine, it would be that it would be nice to have more of the wines by the glass (quite possible with a Coravin) or even by the carafe size. I may well have endulged in a carafe (37.5cl) of the Chinion if it had been on offer and I think it is easier to sell a carafe size to solo diners than the two large glass equivalent. Minor issue this though.
I went to town with the menu here and the bill was to my mind still very good value
Fantastic food and some really nice wines on the main list and some gems in the old and rare section, with very good service. Can’t really ask for more than that can you. You lucky, lucky lot in Bristol having this place.
Would I go back? Absolutely, this meal will (come the end of the year) be a very strong contender for my best meal of 2019. If I have a better one in the remainder of this year I will think myself very fortunate indeed.
I have actually already been back, as they do breakfast/brunch at the weekends. As it was on my way home, I though it would be rude not to nip in. I was actually turfed out of my mate’s place earlier than I had anticipated and wanted to pick up some bargain Maderia (such an underrated wine) from Costco (don’t have it in the Cardiff one for some reason) before making my way back home.
Absolute steal at that price (elsewhere it is £30 +). As a result I had time to kill before Costco opened and what better way to spend it than with breakfast at the Little French.
Nice looking breakfast menu,
from which I ordered an exemplary eggs benedict and a properly strong “wake me up” Americano.
If I lived closer to this place I would quite possibly be bankrupt by the end of the year!!!
Address: 2B North View, Westbury Park, Bristol, BS6 7QB
Tel: 01179 706 276
Website: click here
Twitter: can’t find them on here
Opening hours: Mon – Fri: 12.00 – 22.00; Sun: 08.00 – 22.00; Sun: 08.00 – 16.00 (best to check kitchen times as when I booked lunch 14.15 was last slot before 18.00 – bar snacks and booze in between I assume/suspect).