Although it’s been open for just a month or so, Bistrot Bruno Loubet is already being talked about by foodies and critics as the restaurant opening of the year.
It’s perfect for the moment being relatively inexpensive, boasting a wine list with plenty of unusual bottles in the twenties and with the right complexion to its service – quiet and unassuming rather than embarrassingly toadying.
The tricky ground level space of the Zetter Hotel in which it’s housed has been refurbed in a relaxed mélange of modernist and country style, breaking up the former hard lines of a room that used to feel overly people watchery (and, lets face it, the people often weren’t up to it.)
The ultimate draw of course though is Bruno himself who’s producing dishes that are clever without being self-consciously showy. It’s all done so effortlessly it’s easy to forget you’re actually in the presence of proper old skool greatness.
Bordeaux-born Bruno was the big star of the 80s and 90s, working at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saison then gaining his own Michelin Star at Inn On The Park before opening Bistrot Bruno and L’Odeon. Then for some strange reason he legged it to Australia, presumably for a quieter life.
He returned to the UK apparently looking for an out-of-London gastro pub but was talked out of it by the owners of the Zetter. The menu is French brasserie style but with subtle innovations and it’s this mix of novelty and tradition that’s so nicely packaged and presented here.
A starter of Mauricette snails and meatballs with snails (apparently a reinvention of his mum’s favourite dish) was done without theatre or fuss. The wood pigeon main in a quinoa and giblet sauce main (in which floated tiny florets of cauliflower) was unfashionably rich for modern tastes and all the better for it. A pasta of ravioli meanwhile was almost transparent and the millefeuille (we were feeling greedy) nicely chewy with a beautiful scent of orange and apple.
Like The Modern Pantry 100 yards or so away, it’s essentially an unpretentious but Michelin star quality neighbourhood restaurant. It would be easy to dissolve into paroxysms of joy at having Bruno back but we’ll leave that to you when you go. As you really must.
St John’s Square, 86-88 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 (020-7324 4455; www.thezetter.com)