Little French, 2 North View, Westbury Park, Bristol BS6 7QB
Little French: Henleaze deserves a good restaurant- but did it get it?
In many ways I owe my life to Little French- it’s where I first tasted sauternes butter and I’ve thought about being embalmed in it as a caveat to my Will. Located in Henleaze which occupies the high ground, is more or less where the Old Money comes to soak up the sun before they pop their clogs. It’s a little universe all of its own and historically always has been- a village layout equipped with all the little twee indie businesses. And a Waitrose because, dahling, are you seriously expecting anything less?
When Little French threw down the gauntlet it was as if Godzilla was coming to town- every eatery had been there seemingly for the sake of it and to presumably get in on the hotbed of inheritance and inheritance-to-imminently-be. But it asserted itself off of the weight of proprietor Freddy Bird’s reputation as head chef at The Lido and to great anticipation. I even became a little enamoured with my first visit as I saw Bird run a great service and ate incredibly well. The sweetbreads with lardon and peas are still a benchmark of sweetbread cookery in my mind to this day.
Some expected Bird to be back with his brigade on opening night after a year of confinement, but he wasn’t. Whilst I’m not saying he had to be, I left wondering if the disappointment of some of the dishes could’ve been avoided, had he been. Right out of the gate, the queen scallops are overcooked with only the sauternes butter talking me off the ledge.
The pig's head croquettes on gribiche had me staring into the plate, shaking my head, muttering profanities. Not only is this one of the most well-balanced, cooked and portioned plate of croquettes in recent memory but it’s only £2.50. The panko is fried shell is having no trouble holding itself, filled with hunks of pulled-pork in a reduction of its juices.
Not many places have you laying in bed thinking about mushrooms on toast with clenched fists, ruing all the things you didn’t say at the time. Honestly, look at the photo and try not to let that image live in your head, rent-free, whilst also knowing that it's £7. And no brioche either - instead a lightly toasted slice of the bread you had at the start. They’ve got bills to pay- I understand that- but so do I.
It feels unceremonious to the point where I’m loathed to send it back to a kitchen that would send it out in the first place.
The crab mayonnaise is white crab meat loosely bound with mayo rather than a different emulsion entirely. Tucked into the spine of a gem lettuce leaf, it’s lying across halved cornish earlies which are so satisfying in their sweet densities, glossed with olive oil and humming with dill. Fresh and light despite the starch, it’s underwhelming when you consider the tier of restaurant LF is supposed to be.
Obliged to order the sweetbreads this time with pigs trotters and a Madeira sauce, which is mirrored with a sheen that a great sauce gives. A cobble of lightly caramelised sweetbreads surrounded by morsels of slow-cooked pork occupy the plate. Creamy and yielding, these sweetbreads give over to this sticky glaze of a sauce that boasts a depth of meatiness that’s cut by the sugars in the Madeira.
Wood-grilled Pyrenean lamb, haricot blanc, hispi cabbage, anchovy butter. It sounds like an absolute no-brainer and definitely the one to choose if you’re getting aligot too- but sit tight.
Resting juices swirl the plate and the mint sauce seeps the colour of dying chlorophyll. The anchovy butter is however tying everything together in the way that some idiot guitarists characterise a good bass player as one that ‘you don’t really notice’ in the mix. Ostensibly a great plate of food that’s let down in detail, the aligot restores all serotonin deficit. This essence of potato that’s now peaking at critical mass with fat scoops like raw meringue and drops like treacle- it’s genuinely incredible. The make-up sex is happening already.
To clarify, the diner I’m with was almost killed by a King Cobra recently and was halfway through showing me where they’d redirected the blood supply to his hand, when he got the news:
There’s no tart on tonight.
Wishing the Lord had now taken him in the initial hospitalisation, he saw no solace in the creme caramel or chocolate mousse. But that’s fine because I did.
The mousse itself is populated with little dense pockets of chocolate, reminiscent of a cake batter. There’s also that nudge of salt in the background that has you coming back, whilst the single cream this mound is paddling in, washes with the chocolate like a milkshake which makes everything a little lighter and due to the salt, almost quenching.
The crème caramel is classic in all it’s reflective glory. With the reassuring wibble of something fortified with egg rather than an agent, it’s flecked with vanilla seed and carves like a stress-management activity with a spoon.
Being the first meal out in several months and reminders everywhere to make allowances for mistakes and so on, my expectations came pre-calibrated; that is to say, trying to have none whatsoever. With this in mind, and being my sixth visit, the verdict is this:
Little French is inconsistent in its output whilst remaining consistent on the price. Although it has clearly marked its territory with accolades from people whose opinions actually carry a readership, and is a much-needed addition to the creeping facelift of Henleaze and beyond, its customer base only have so much time and money left.
See the entire meal here:https://www.instagram.com/p/CNm7StaD69B/