bistrot bruno loubet, ec1

my friend jude and i have an annual ritual – lunch or supper, somewhere posh, on xmas eve.

we started with the savoy grill (wonderful, especially the champagne trolley and sitting in front of an open fire with our coffees and petit fours; marcus wareing was in the kitchen) and have also been to galvin’s bistrot de luxe (the kitchen ran out of bread and the staff were a bit demob happy), galvin at windows (delish with fabulous views of the xmas fair in regent’s park) and marcus wareing at the berkeley (jude’s favourite). this year we went early (i’ll be away on xmas eve) and chose bistrot bruno loubet in clerkenwell.

this was our second time at bistrot bruno loubet this year - we went for my birthday in june. each time the meal has not been perfectly in accordance with my tastes, but each time i have been blown away and vowed to return. i also love the space, which has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the room.

in june the highlights were our starters. we were greedy and shared three - the signature snails and meat balls; mackerel and piccalilli tart with green gazpacho dressing and beetroot ravioli with fried breadcrumbs, sage and rocket salad. the mackerel and the ravioli were the stand-out dishes.

the pudding was also superb – we managed to snaffle the last portion of the chocolate tart - we were told there was none left, but when jude talked to the waiter about her memories of bruno’s chocolate puddings when he was cooking at inn on the park in the late eighties, a portion was found (reserved for the kitchen staff apparently – sorry!). this was the best chocolate pudding i have ever eaten.

so, onto this year’s experience. again, starters were mixed – i chose the guinea fowl boudin blanc on cassoulet beans which was a gently flavoured and entirely traditional french bistro dish. a bit dull for me, although the light moussey boudin was, i am sure, impeccable. jude’s choice of cep and quinoa ravioli with jerusalem artichoke velouté and cobnut oil was far more interesting, with delicate flavours and a light touch.

for mains, jude chose the duck confit coated with honey and dukkah with boulangère potatoes and rocket. this was declared the best duck confit she’d ever eaten.

however, this time i had drawn the ace card – bruno’s signature hare royale with macaroni and spinach gratin. this was named dish of the year 2010 by olive magazine and was incredible. when i ordered this, i didn’t really know what to expect. to be honest, i chose it on the basis of the macaroni gratin (i love my mac n cheese) and the fact that i like rabbit. how naïve of me.

the first clue that i was in for something special was when i asked the sommelier for advice – we wanted white wine, i told him, but were eating the duck and hare dishes. in response i was told, that the hare royale is the most powerfully flavoured dish that he has ever eaten, and could he not persuade us to choose a red wine…

so, what was served up? a disk of dark meat, on a plate that glistened with a near-black sauce. the meat of the hare, which is carefully cooked for two days with spices and red wine, was mixed with its liver and foie gras before being wrapped in pancetta and slow-cooked in a water bath to ensure it remains tender. it was served topped with foie gras, on a small bed of mashed pumpkin, and surrounded by a sauce made from madeira and port. the flavour is deep, dark, sexy and entirely visceral – mind-blowingly good.

to give you a hint at the dish’s richness – i was eating portions of the cheesy gratin (and jude’s duck) to lighten things up! thankfully the wine we were recommended – a dry jurancon – was sufficient match for both dishes, and really shone once we started eating.

after such an amazingly rich main course i couldn’t eat any more and only managed a mouthful of the wonderfully light and tart passion fruit self-saucing pudding with coconut biscuit, that jude couldn’t resist.

it was a wonderful evening with some incredible food and i am already wanting to return. this is helped by the fact that it is such good value (the wine list is very helpful here) and we spent c£75 a head, including pre-dinner cocktails.

if you’ve not been you should. and if you want to try the hare, get there soon as it’ll be off the menu once spring arrives.

bistrot bruno loubet

zetter hotel, st john's square, 86–88 clerkenwell road, london, ec1m 5rj

t - 020 7324 4455

e –

abby dysonhare, londonComment