It’s little wonder that Littlefrench has become so popular since Fred Sirieix and Michel Roux Jr featured this Bristol bistro in Remarkable Places to Eat. I worried that all those alluring scenes of elastic aligot would make it impossible to book. But despite the “Sirieix Effect” we were able to get a table. (Pro-tip: mid-week lunch is a good time to go.)
Unassuming Littlefrench sits amid the suburban hairdressing salons and dental surgeries of Westbury Park, about a 15 minute drive from Bristol Temple Meads station. Inside, the tables have all been separated by Perspex screens whilst there’s a convivial outdoor area next to the Westbury Park church.
On arrival, and throughout, service was both faultless and friendly. There seemed to be a spring in the servers’ step, perhaps verging on a confident swagger. I only hope this doesn’t curdle into laurel-resting hubris. Chef Freddy Bird and his team have a lot to be proud of, for reasons I’ll come to, but maintaining consistency is just as hard as gaining critical acclaim in the first place. And I very much want to get the train back to Bristol and repeat the experience again.
the Gallic cooking is as honest and exposed as the nudist beach in Cap d’Agde
But first, aperitifs. Any midday meal should begin with a classic preprandial of some kind and it was extremely pleasing to see they could whip up a Negroni or Boulevardier (I daresay scoring a point over Noble Rot in that respect). A French 75 – one of my all-time favourite pre-lunch curtain-raisers – was served in a coupe and perfectly prepared. The wine list, delivered on a clipboard, also impressed with its reasonable mark-ups and ample selection (albeit youthful).
To accompany the pre-drinks, a trio of pig’s head croquettes were crunchy on the outside and filled with yielding, gelatinous pork. These sat on a sauce gribiche which sang with parsley, capers, tarragon, mustard, dill and eggs. Heaven.
A platter of queen scallops came dripping in Sauternes butter to maximise their natural sweetness. I detected a little grittiness in a couple of the little plump beauties but I think that’s the only technical fault I can think of (and it was a struggle to find any issues here).
It was also good to see a lovely lapin leg in mustard sauce on the menu. Rabbit has waned in popularity over the years but here it takes centre-stage. There’s no fear of offal either. Milk-fed lamb sweetbreads and pig’s trotters with Madeira for £9? Sign. Me. Up.
But the scene-stealer was the Pyrenean lamb leg: cooked pink with its juices running into olive oil, this was perfectly seasoned and served on a bed of beans, tenderstem broccoli and healthy dollop of salsa verde. Like the key change in Take My Breath Away, the salsa verde and aligot weren’t strictly necessary but added unexpected sublimity, vaulting the flavours of this dish into the stratosphere.
It’s abundantly clear that Freddy Bird’s kitchen is a generous one; the goal is to feed people and give them a good time, with food made with love. The presentation is simple and rustic in that almost thrown-together Keith Floyd way. Incidentally, Floyd once had three restaurants in Bristol and I’m sure, if he was still alive, would love Littlefrench. He’d have no truck with today’s predilection for smears, microherbs or forget-me-nots decorating the plate. At Littlefrench the Gallic cooking is as honest and exposed as the nudist beach in Cap d’Agde.
A little word of warning though: garlic is a recurring motif throughout. (I’m sure they would put garlic in the crème brûlée and coffee if they could get away with it.) But that’s not a criticism. Quite the opposite, en fait. It’s just something to bear in mind if you have any meetings or plan to go on public transport afterwards. “But I’ll wear a face covering” you say. Oh the futility! The naivety! There’s something particularly powerful about French garlic breath – it somehow transcends space and time. Not even a Titanium-enriched mask made in Fort Knox would prevent the allium vapours escaping your mouth. But to hell with it. We’re not supposed to be kissing anyone at the moment anyway.
To finish, a pitch-perfect chocolate mousse and a wobbly crème caramel looked as if they had leapt out of my (now very old) GCSE French textbook. Just classic desserts with no messing about. We then knocked back an espresso and small glass of Muscat, which is the only way to end such a life-affirming meal.
A word about value. Not being an habitué of Westbury Park, or indeed Bristol, I’m no expert on local price points but £80 each for croquettes, three courses, decent plonk, a cocktail, coffee, digestif and service seems deliciously fair.
It’s rare that I fall in love with a place so quickly but Littlefrench has certainly been one of my post-lockdown highlights. Out of this world? Earthling-era David Bowie would simply sing “you little wonder, little wonder you.”
2 North View
by J A Smith