14 Great French restaurants to try in the UK
- Credit: Simon John Owen
Love French food but can’t hop over the channel as often as you’d like? Try one of these restaurants for delicious Gallic cuisine
Cabotte, Gresham Street, London
Right in the heart of the City of London, across from Guildhall and equidistant to Bank, St Paul’s and several other landmarks and tube stations, is Cabotte. The elegant yet traditional-feeling front façade is echoed inside in a chic modern take on the classic bistro feel. Dark wood and banquette seats meet painted raw brick walls and industrial ducting. It is a counterpoint that works well, and one that is carried through to the food, too. The highest quality ingredients are sourced from the UK wherever possible by talented Head Chef Edward Boarland, but further afield if appropriate, and are prepared with a combination of French expertise and flair to celebrate the food rather than mask it. The result is exceptional. My starter of squab pigeon was gorgeously rich and made the best of the whole bird (the umbles paté was amazing), while my friend thoroughly enjoyed her generously proportioned Maldon rock oysters.
The main course of Line caught Cornish cod was lifted by an Iberico chorizo element, while my friend’s pan-fried mullet was sumptuously arranged in a pool of prawn tartar and lobster bisque. The side dishes (designed to be shared) deserve their own mention, particularly the decadent leek gratin with a (un)healthy whack of Comté.
One of the key characteristics of Cabotte, is its relationship with wine, and the Burgundy region in particular. Working directly with suppliers in Burgundy, the restaurant has an excellent array of wines by the glass and bottle, making it perfect for the business lunches that are very much its staple, located as it is. We went with wines suggested by Restaurant Manager Virgile Degrez, whose choices were a superb accompaniment to the flavours of our dishes. From the delicate freshness of a Chablis 1er Cru, and a Puligny-Montrachet, to the silky sweetness of the Sauternes I enjoyed with my Opera gâteau dessert. The restaurant was busy but never felt rushed or over-noisy, and the attention to detail and friendliness of the staff was matched only by the quality and deliciousness of the food. Good value for money too.
Mains from £19
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Balthazar, Covent Garden, London
Located within a very half-hearted stone’s throw from Covent Garden’s main marketplace buildings, and just across from the Royal Opera House, Balthazar is frequently packed with diners, both casual and otherwise. With a healthy homage to the New York original, which opened in 1997, the four-year-old London counterpart is set up as a glamorous, classic French bistro, complete with dark wood, red leather banquettes, brass rails and impeccably dressed waiting staff. There is a timelessness to the atmosphere that may be a cliché, but nonetheless a pleasing one.
The menu is similarly packed with French classics, guaranteed to appeal to any Francophile palate. With an emphasis on fresh seafood as well as bistro fare, oysters, caviar and lobster feature regularly on the menu, both in their own right and as part of more elaborate dishes, while there are plenty of options for both meat eaters and vegetarians to enjoy. I started with the gloriously delicious garlic prawns with Espelette pepper, served with warm fougasse. It was one of those rare dishes eliciting a desire to cancel the main course and just ask for a larger starter all over again. My companion selected the half dozen Fines de Claire oysters and was very satisfied with her choice. My main course of duck confit with wild mushrooms and butterbeans was hearty and flavoursome; it had just the right level of piquancy and richness added by the sherry vinaigrette, and was elegantly accompanied by a half-bottle of Pomerol. If pressed, I think I would still have preferred an indulgent replay with the garlic prawns. On the other side of the table, a generous portion of moules marini?res was enjoyed at leisure. The meal was completed with a silky crème brûlée and an espresso, while my friend enjoyed her raspberry and vanilla vacherin.
The service was attentive, friendly and just the right side of the formal/casual divide, with no sense of being pestered, yet no waiting either. The atmosphere was welcoming to all, whether suited and booted or otherwise and surprisingly relaxed and sociable, with plenty of buzz.
Mains from £13
Chez Pascal, Ledbury, Herefordshire
Passing through the sleepy, timber-framed market town of Ledbury, you would probably think of quintessentially English tearooms and morris dancers. Indeed, it doesn’t take much to find these in Ledbury if your timing is right, but there is also a French café.
Chez Pascal is, rather appropriately perhaps, situated in a former tea room on one of the town’s charmingly monochrome streets. The café was first established in 2013, after owners Janie and Pascal Clarenne moved on from a local restaurant to set up their own endeavour. The current location is a recent move, which explains why from the outside it still shows signs of its previous use. Inside the feel is distinctly Francophile, with vintage-style posters and decorated tablecloths. The ambience is definitely more genuine rural French than clichéd faux-French, with a warm welcome deftly assured by Pascal himself, who greets everyone with a handshake as they enter.
The menu is limited to a few bistro classic-style dishes, backed up by omelettes, baguettes, croque-monsieurs and soups. Pascal’s background is in pâtisserie, and that shows through in the fine array of domed glass dishes on the scrubbed counter, each displaying a tasty pastry delight. My husband and I both selected the cheese soufflé, served on a simple salad, given a subtle twist by using local Hereford Hop cheese. It was light, fluffy and distinctly moreish. My main course of chicken cooked in red wine, with bacon, mushrooms and thyme tasted as French as the tricolore, although the sautéed potatoes were a little on the soggy side. My husband went for more of a Franco-British fusion with a venison cottage pie, and was well-fed and happy by its conclusion. The café does not have a licence, but is happy for you to bring your own wine. We enjoyed a simple elderflower pressé as an accompaniment to lunch. Those glass domes wove their magic and we took away a slice of opera cake and a triangle of sticky-looking tarte Tatin to enjoy at home, both of which later proved delicious. Chez Pascal does not offer haute cuisine, nor a sophisticated air, but what it does deliver, in a small Herefordshire town, is the sort of food and friendly welcome you would expect from a busy and popular bistro in a small French town. There is a pleasing parity there, and we will go back to enjoy it again.
À la carte mains/light lunches from £5.50.
Tel: 01531 634 443
Clos Maggiore, Covent Garden, London
Clos Maggiore is located in the heart of Covent Garden and Theatreland, and is frequently referred to as the ‘World’s/London’s Most Romantic’ restaurant, a double whammy guaranteeing regularly full tables. The atmosphere is all classic dark wood panelling with the famous bowered dining room being the jewel in the restaurant’s crown, and the most sought-after spot for a table. Artificial cherry blossom, laced with fairy lights (far from as tacky as it sounds) hang below the retractable glass ceiling, easily opened on balmy summer evenings. On chillier evenings, an open fire adds to the romance.
My husband and I were lucky enough to secure a table under the blossom and ‘stars’, and the atmosphere was positively buzzing, mostly with couples and celebrations. Reputedly, the chances of witnessing a marriage proposal are fairly high on any given evening, but apparently joint selfies were more the order of that evening. The menu created by head chef Marcellin Marc makes the most of excellent-quality locally sourced seasonal produce, with an emphasis on classic French flavours. Nibbling on light and fluffy cheesy pastry puffs while sipping champagne, we looked trough a menu that was as decadent as the surroundings. I started with the ‘Marcellin’s Heritage’ shoulder of Loire Valley rabbit, rich and tasty with a mustard foam and yet not overpowering, with extra crunch and tang from a sweet and sour black radish. My husband’s Limousin Veal ‘Vitello Tonnato’ in a smoked tuna and anchovy mayonnaise was exquisite, and both were accompanied perfectly with a gorgeous light burgundy recommended by the charming and knowledgeable toulousaine sommelier. My main course of roasted free-range chicken leg stuffed with duck livers and morel mushrooms was truly delicious, but exceptionally rich, with the pea accompaniment providing an unexpected sweetness to the dish. A roasted black Iberian pork loin with braised chicory was enjoyed a lot by my husband as well.
Being dessert people, we were looking forward to the final course with some enthusiasm and it did not disappoint. My praline ‘Paris Brest’ was a sumptuous, yet surprisingly light celebration of fluffy choux pastry, caramel, ice cream and hazelnut, enhanced by a glass of creamy Marsala, while my husband’s Greek yoghurt cheesecake and late-harvest sauvignon blanc did not stay around for very long. We positively rolled out of the restaurant! The service was attentive and polite, and the atmosphere and food are perfect for that special meal or celebration.
Three-course set lunch menu £29.50, five-course tasting menu £65 (or £105 with paired wines), à la carte mains from £23.50.
Cocotte, Notting Hill, London
A rotisserie chicken restaurant may not initially scream out French-ness, but Cocotte is the brainchild of a group of Parisian friends – Romain, Ziad and Capucine – and their Gallic influence is clear. Located on a sunny corner of a main street in the achingly fashionable Notting Hill area of London, the restaurant has a mission to be a healthy choice for those who love good food – particularly rotisserie cooked chicken.
Chef Romain worked for many years in Michelin-starred restaurants, and takes his ingredients very seriously. The chickens, sourced exclusively from a Red Tractor accredited, family-run farm in East Yorkshire, are grain fed and won a Great Taste Award in 2016. Before cooking, they are marinated for 24 hours with Cocotte’s blend of herbs and spices. The result is succulent and tasty. Non-meat-eaters should not despair though, as the array of vegetable-based dishes is impressive. Innovative and delicious salad combinations are available either as a side dish or main course.
My companion and I started the meal with one of Cocotte’s excellent cocktails, going straight into the chicken main course (we shared half a chicken) with the flavoursome Nathalie salad with kale, peppers and seeds, a well-dressed green salad and the delicious-sounding Truffle Mac & Cheese. The key to full enjoyment of Cocotte’s chicken is definitely their sauces, which show a typically Gallic delicacy and attention to detail. The descriptively named ‘spicy’ sauce had just the right level of piquancy, while the ‘green’ sauce – with pesto, feta cheese, fresh herbs and a few secret ingredients – was described by my companion as tasting “like a salad, only in a sauce”. The flavours of both chicken and sauces worked exceptionally well together, while the salads were varied and tasty, yet genuinely healthy. Less so the Truffle Mac & Cheese. I had to stop myself from licking out the dish it came in, it was so decadently delicious. We managed (just about) to squeeze in a dessert and coffee, and the hazelnut chocolate tarte and espresso did not disappoint. Healthy, extremely tasty, and excellent value for money, Cocotte is a great option for chicken-lovers and salad aficionados alike. They do takeaway, too.
Chicken from £7, sides from £6.
Paysanne, Deganwy, North Wales
Growing up on the North Wales coast, holidays to France were always a long-winded endeavour involving tedious car journeys or frantic airport dashes. Had I known there was an authentic taste of France so close to home, I’m not entirely sure I’d have bothered to make the journey across the Channel.
Nestled between the tourist honeypots of Llandudno and Conwy, the sleepy seaside town of Deganwy hardly seems like the sort of place that would be home to exquisite French fare. But as soon as you step inside Paysanne, you forget about the shrieking seagulls and gloomy Welsh weather outside, and find yourself transported to a cosy Parisian bistrot. Convivial host Cai and his family have owned the restaurant for 30 years and although his parents, who started the business back in 1988, now live in south-western France, they still contribute by regularly sending over their favourite wines and foodie finds. The menu offers a vast array of traditional French dishes with some unusual combinations: how does duck with kumquat sound? There’s also a ‘Festins’ menu where, given a bit of notice, the chef will cook up a special treat such as local Menai oysters or rosemary and garlic-studded Welsh lamb.
My mother and I opted for the Menu de Marché: three hearty courses and a glass of wine for a very reasonable £21.75. Her starter was the melon falaise: a class above your bog-standard balled melon affair, with delicious hunks of fruit perfectly paired with grapefruit, prosciutto, walnuts and a gorgeous green apple coulis. My choice of champignon à la palframan - a field mushroom oozing with Stilton and bacon – was just the right size for a starter. For our main course, my mother thought it would be rude not to have fish while beside the seaside, so chose the salmon aux poireaux, a succulent slice of fish doused in a tangy bacon, leek and lemon sauce. I chose the porc à la Languedocienne; a meat I’d normally avoid at a restaurant for fear of it being dry, but the beautiful caramelised pork with a prune and Armagnac sauce has made me a fan of it again – not that I’d be able to replicate it to this standard at home! Dessert was a slice of the divine tarte du jour; blueberry and almond today, which would have been just as tasty with a cup of coffee for elevenses. The service met the perfect balance of being fast and polite, yet totally unobtrusive; very French, in fact. With its charm and sophistication, it’s no wonder this restaurant even had 007’s approval, being a firm favourite of late actor Roger Moore.
Mains from £15
La Fromagerie, Marylebone, London
The clue is in the name of this one! The newest of three La Fromagerie locations in London (the others are in Highbury and Marylebone) the Bloomsbury shop opened in October 2017 in a lovely situation on a quiet, partly-pedestrianised street just a short walk from the British Museum. The building has been sensitively renovated with attractive late-Georgian features clearly visible in the end result, making for a cosy but smart ambience.
As with all of the La Fromagerie branches, this is as much a speciality cheese shop as it is restaurant. The shop sells around 110 varieties of cheese (the other two outlets sell around 200 each) from across Europe. A temperature and humidity controlled cheeseroom means that each cheese is kept in optimum conditions, making for reliably high quality.
The menu, somewhat unsurprisingly, focuses largely on cheese, but not exclusively. Sharing plates include the likes of beef carpaccio and duck rillette, while sandwiches and sardines also feature, as does a diverse range of charcuterie. On the occasion of our visit, only one option really appealed to my friend and I. What could be better than sharing a fondue on a cold day? The house speciality Fondue Savoyarde combined Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, Emmental Français Grand Cru and Comté d’Estive cheeses, and was heated over a tealight rather than the more traditional spirit heater, but stayed plenty warm enough for us to enjoy dipping our bread and cornichons. We had decided to share a fondue, rather than have one each and it was a good sized portion when accompanied by a side dish of a charcuterie platter and some broccoli florets. The cheese was as unctuous and tasty as could be desired and was beautifully accompanied by a glass of dark and spicy house red wine. Having erred on the side of caution when choosing the main course, we still had some room left, which was happily filled by sharing a small French Cheese Board. What’s better than cheese? More cheese! Five regional varieties, including some I’d never tried before such as Napoleon from the Pyrénées, were enjoyed enthusiastically until optimal cheese saturation levels had been reached. Cheese lovers will be in heaven!
Mains from £7.50, cheese boards from £9.25
Aubaine, Mayfair, London
With seven branches of the restaurant in London, including one in Selfridges and also a bakery in Covent Garden, Aubaine offers a variety of locations and settings in which to enjoy contemporary French-influenced food in the capital. The Mayfair restaurant is tucked away just a stone’s throw from Green Park, surrounded by the boutiques, offices and galleries of Dover Street.
This is no dark wood and brass confection of French dining. The ambience is modern and low-key, with plenty of steel and glass. A back wall filled with bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne and glass domes containing delicious looking desserts and pastries are a definite hint at the restaurant’s style though – French at heart.
Both the menu and ambience of Aubaine in Mayfair work together to make diners feel welcome at all hours through the day, whether for a working breakfast, lingering weekend brunch, a lunch with clients or friends or a romantic dinner. Sandwiches, salads and small plates are ideal for every day, while some truly sumptuous main courses can be preceded by an excellent cocktail and then accompanied by something from the broad French-focussed wine list. My husband selected the mini merguez sausages with lime aioli to start with and found them a tasty way to kick off the meal. My duck liver parfait with onion marmalade was tasty, but definitely eclipsed by my main course of lobster spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and basil cress. The creamy lobster bisque sauce with the plump sweet lobster meat was a real treat, while my husband thoroughly enjoyed his duck breast from the daily specials menu, accompanied by sweet potato fries. This is one of Aubaine’s greatest strengths, its lack of pretension. If you want fries with your duck, that’s absolutely fine, while if you want champagne with your steak, that works too. There’s no sense that the maître d is judging your choices as “not French enough”. A refreshing alternative to some more traditional UK-based French restaurants. The staff too were friendly and relaxed, yet capable and efficient. On the Saturday evening we visited, the restaurant was surprisingly quiet, but it felt like it is probably much busier during the day.
Mains from £15.50
The Old Bookbinders, Oxford
Nestled in the suburb of Jericho on the northern edge of Oxford city centre, the Old Bookbinders is testament to the age-old adage that appearances can be deceptive.
From the outside, it looks like a traditional English pub, and the interior, with its wooden bar, wicker seats and carpeted floors, reinforce this image. But that is the effect that French-born Michel Sadones and his family, owners since 2011, set out to create: a charming pub (complete with real ales) that offered French bistro-style cuisine inspired by their trips to France.
Arriving for lunch one Saturday, I immediately had my appetite whetted by the menu du jour, which included cod mornay and coq au vin, but decided to be indulgent and go for the à la carte menu instead. To start, I plumped for the soupe de poissons, a tasty blend of bream, haddock and mullet chunks, which certainly warmed me up on a chilly day. My companion chose the escargots de Bourgogne, a plate of 12 snails cooked in garlic and butter, which she said were beautifully tender and went down a treat with a large glass of bordeaux red. For the main course, I opted for the seared sea bass cooked in white wine and topped with fresh herbs. My friend, who is much more of a meat eater, surprised me by choosing the same dish, and we agreed that the fish was cooked to perfection. Despite feeling quite full, we managed to make room for a dessert. The restaurant is well known locally for its crêpes, but we opted instead for a zingy tarte au citron, proving a perfect ending to the meal. The food was authentic, reasonably priced and served with a smile. The menu changes monthly, so coming to the Old Bookbinders could become a regular French treat.
Mains from £10.50, two course menu du jour from £10.50
La Ferme, Primrose Hill, London
The suburb of Primrose Hill has a tasty restaurant that brings French pastures to your plate. La Ferme’s focus is seasonal food with a twist – and it scores highly for effortless service and creative courses. Inspired by restaurateur François Guerin and his chef (and stepbrother), Guillaume Dunos, the ‘bistronomic’ food combines rustic bistro-style cooking with fine produce sourced from local markets and from France. Guillaume has an impressive CV, having worked in Parisian restaurants including Fouquet’s, Prince de Galles and Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, and was a finalist the UK Young Chef of the Year awards.
La Ferme has a 32-seater restaurant and an outside terrace on the ground floor, and a snug lounge upstairs, where we began the evening by sinking into a sofa with a glass of fizz. The lounge is sponsored by Champagne Deutz and stocks all the brand’s options, along with still wine and classic cocktails. The relaxed atmosphere continued in the restaurant which, judging by our visit, appeals to all ages. Diners have a choice of menus, and my husband and I opted for the seasonal menu du chef, which changes monthly. To start, I had the goat’s cheese with fresh vegetables while my husband chose courgette three ways: tempura flower, coulis and maki. The dishes looked delicate, but captured sophisticated flavours that left us marvelling at the food and the fresh Bourgogne white that accompanied it. For the mains, I enjoyed stone bass fillet, with baby artichokes, coconut, lime gel and a dashi beurre blanc, while my husband tucked into succulent lamb chops, accompanied by a glass of Saumur Champigny red. At around 9.15pm, the lights dimmed; an appropriate if coincidental touch for the unveiling of our desserts: a wild strawberry tart with pistachio ice cream, and a café gourmand of crème brûlée, raspberry financier and white chocolate ganache, served with a sweet Sauternes.
Sadly, we did not have room for the cheese course – Cantal with rhubarb chutney, but perhaps next time. La Ferme offers a warm welcome with food that follows the seasons, so we shall definitely be back.
Mains from £16, two-course menu £20, three courses £25
Otto’s, Gray’s Inn Road, London
Like any big city and the packed public transport, pollution and crowds that come with it, London can sometimes be gruelling. Step into Otto’s French restaurant and be prepared to leave your troubles at the door for an opulent and wonderful experience of dining à la française.
We were welcomed with a glass of champagne which set the tone for the evening. It was a good opportunity to take in the dining room – red velvet seats, crisp white table cloths and, in prime position, a beautiful silver duck press service. We watched the well-rehearsed choreography of the waiters with Otto himself at the centre, gliding from table to table, there carving a piece of meat, here showing guests a sauce he was concocting for them. Soon it was our turn. We were given a taster of three starters served in quick succession, accompanied by a lovely Pouilly-Fuissé from the extensive wine list. First, Scottish smoked salmon, carved in front of us and served with different garnishes including shallots, capers and even a small tin of caviar. Then a lightly toasted brioche with foie gras, served with mushrooms. Finally king prawns and sweetbreads – to which I’m not normally partial but here were delicious – in a lobster sauce. The highlight was yet to come. At the start of our meal, Otto, who hails from Munich but trained at the Tour d’Argent in Paris, showed us a small pan in which he poured different alcohols, set them alight in brilliant blue flames and left to simmer before adding duck liver. Thinly carved in front of us, slices of duck were served with green beans and crispy potatoes. The meat was then covered in the sauce which had been simmering slowly from the start of our meal; it was divine. The duck was so full of flavour and so tender, we were left speechless and enjoyed every mouthful.
We ended the meal with a spectacular dessert of traditional crêpes Suzettes, flambéed in a tangy orange sauce and balanced by sweet, hot strawberries and vanilla ice cream. Impeccable and traditional service and modernised French gourmet classics make Otto’s an experience for a special occasion, but one you will not forget.
Mains from £23.50. Booking in advance required for canard/homard à la presse.
Le Petit Coco, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Tucked away in a basement location just five minutes from the main shopping streets of Cheltenham, Petit Coco is easy to miss, but well worth discovering. The cosy restaurant only seats around 20, so it is well worth booking ahead, but the atmosphere is intimate rather than crowded, with a pleasant buzz of conversation reminiscent of popular bistros across the Channel. Dark red walls decorated with photographs of the greats of cinema and music add to the reassuringly French ambience, as does the dark wood furniture and the gentle musical accompaniment. Petit Coco also features musical evenings at various times of the year, including Edith Piaf and Swing from Paris nights.
A lunchtime visit for the prix fix menu was a great choice, with something for everyone, both carnivore and vegetarian. I started with a goat’s cheese and onion tartlet, while others enjoyed the smoked salmon. Next time I will definitely be looking to try the comté soufflé, which looked amazing. Service was swift but not rushed, and the staff were pleasant and affable. My coq au vin main course was generous and flavoursome, very tender and tasted authentically French. Other options included a beautifully presented fish of the day, while the plates passing by to other diners indicated that the á la carte menu was well worth trying on a future visit. Classics such as magret de canard and navarin of lamb looked enticing and good value. The two courses were perfect for a lunch, but the consensus was that we had missed out on dessert favourites such as crème brûlée and chocolate fondant. A coffee to stop the need for an afternoon nap had to suffice on this occasion. Each of us plans to visit again and make an evening of it, possibly dipping into the appealing list of French wines.
Definitely worth looking out for from street level, Petit Coco is a small, nostalgic slice of France in Gloucestershire.
Mains from £13.95, two-course prix fixe lunch menu £12.95
Bon Vivant, Bloomsbury, London
If you are passing through London’s Euston or King’s Cross stations (home to Eurostar) and have time to spare and a hunger for authentic French food, I advise taking a short stroll to Marchmount Street in Bloomsbury. Here you’ll find Bon Vivant, a relaxed French brasserie offering breakfast, lunch and even ‘drunch’ (a bottomless cocktail brunch, ideal for lazy weekends) as well as dinner.
We were there for le dîner so kicked off with cocktails. My choice of the signature Dirty Pink (gin, lemon syrup, Chambord raspberry liqueur and egg white) was rather seductive, as was hisself’s espresso martini – we could easily have ordered more, but dinner beckoned.
Dishes are classically French but with a twist, courtesy of head chef Oliver Kuehler. Seemingly straightforward dishes of soupe de poissons, tartare de boeuf, salade de chèvre chaude, poulet farci and bavette have all been tweaked to create something rather less ordinary. My entrée of terrine de fois gras, for example, was accompanied by cacao, quince and sauternes jelly, and brioche, while hisself went for the lobster special with champagne sauce. After the rich starter, I decided a lighter fish dish would be advisable; the plaice with samphire, chorizo, tomato, beurre blanc and chervil was mouth-watering – but definitely not light on calories! Hisself had no such thoughts, ordering the sumptuous magret de canard, with parsnip, apples, shallots, hazelnuts, honey and thyme jus. Side dishes of green beans and possibly the tastiest gratin dauphinois I have ever had completed our repas. The delightful waiting staff – all French – helped with our choice of wine, a fragrant 2015 Fleurie. Perhaps surprisingly, after all this indulgence we still had room for dessert: tiramisu Breton (with caramel au beurre salé and Speculoos biscuit) and the tarte du jour, lemon meringue. Seasonal menus will ensure you keep coming back to this chic eatery, but it’s an equally good spot to drop in for coffee and a croissant. The stylish surroundings feel French but not clichéd, and with its corner plot, large windows and pavement tables, it is a great place to watch the world rush by as you linger over a verre de vin and something délicieux.
Mains from £12, cocktails from £7.50
There is something romantic about a floating restaurant, as Glassboat in the centre of Bristol proves. Anchored at the Welsh Back on the banks of the River Avon, the converted working barge has both style and substance, serving classic French cuisine in one of the city’s most scenic settings.
Glassboat still has traces of its nautical past; oak wooden floors, restored wooden windows and portholes imbue the space with a homely, understated feel.
As we stepped on-board, we were welcomed by the front-of-house, who showed us to our table; a candlelit spot looking over the river. We perused the dinner menu over a glass of fizz and watched the world go by: walkers strolling along the cobbled street on one side, canal boats and swans gliding past on the other.
Our waitress was friendly and helpful, insisting that I taste her suggested wine from the extensive list before helping me to settle on a Côtes de Duras red from south-west France.
To start, I had pickled beets and fennel slices served with a cool whip of rich and creamy ewe’s curd that complemented the sweetness of the beetroot. My friend’s pressed leek terrine with black truffle and moscatel vinegar was light, fresh and slightly sweet.
For the main course, I plumped for a hearty dish of partridge casserole with olives, prunes and pomme purée. The meat was perfectly cooked; pink, juicy and tender, and rich in taste, while my friend’s turbot served on braised cabbage stood up well to the richness of the red wine jus.
Portion sizes were large enough to satisfy our appetites while still allowing room for dessert. I chose the café gourmand, a trio of miniature desserts made up of crème brûlée, a decadent chocolate mousse and a light raspberry soufflé. My friend’s tarte à l’orange was sweet and tangy, and came covered in smashed pistachio nuts, with a refreshing lemon sorbet on the side.
The charming location may be Glassboat’s pièce de résistance, but it is the excellent food and outstanding service that really hit the mark.
Mains from £14