I’d seen the Little French menu before. I watched Freddy Bird show Michael Roux Jnr how to make aligot on Remarkable Places to Eat before he and Fred Sirieux sat and shared steak and frites at their wooden tables. I’d mused over the pictures and read reviews from the national hacks and, somewhat more importantly, from The Plate Licked Clean, which featured chocolate mousses floating on double cream and scallops doggy paddling in butter flavored with sweet wine. I’d seen Instagram stories and tweets from Sam and Chris of whole roast turbots for two, filleted at the table and circumcised to reveal glistening flesh. I’d seen all of it with envy, and yet still managed to turn up for dinner with a full belly because of a bad (actually great) decision regarding a sourdough donut an hour before dinner.
It’s nothing a negroni or two didn’t sort out. We arrive into the narrow, bustling restaurant and taken to the large metallic table which backs on to the restaurant kitchen. Bottle of Sancerre, bottle of Pinot. Some champagne whilst you’re at it; we’re celebrating and have been for four days straight. Olives and bread for the table, the former plump and licked with garlic, the latter chewy and pleasingly nutty. Then the wave of starters; those scallops taking a dip in the sauternes butter, not the biggest of things but generous in portion and so sweet. The butter at once acidic and rich. Glorious. Equally so veal sweetbreads lacquered in a gelatinous sauce of madeira and pig trotter which tastes like the sweetest, oinkiest gravy. There are clams that are housing an orgy of pata negra ham fuelled by white wine. Everything requires more bread to complete the housecleaning. It’s all rather wonderful.
Mains provide just as much, if not more, enjoyment. What’s not to love about a technically perfect champagne risotto with wild mushrooms, loitering under a gloom of autumnal truffle? The risotto is loose and toothsome, the champagne cooked so just the hint of brioche is detectable. Or plaice, filleted so that the hard work is already done, with browned butter, shrimp, and capers. A dish that could just as easily have been from the North West of England as the North West of France: simple and earnest and all the better for it. Maybe the pick of the entire meal is the guinea fowl, skin the yellow of Homer Simpson, cooked until crisp and blistered, then butchered into portioned pieces of flesh and bone. It is served simply with French fries, green olives, and an aoili so pungent with garlic I expect it to stain the breton shirt that I should be wearing to eat it with it’s stench. The fries stand in for the bread and soak up the cooking juices. We don’t need the aligot but we still finish it; contorting the cheesey mashed potato out of the bowl and onto the plate with a stretchiness that would have an instagrammer jizzing into their dungarees at the mere thought of the potential for reels. I’m too old for all of that, and besides, I’d already ejaculated when the guinea fowl arrived at the table.
Desserts are mostly cheese, though I share a lemon tart with the birthday girl that has a slightly underdone base and is the only noticable slip in the meal. The bill is less than £80 a head including service, aperitifs and far too much wine, leaving me in no doubt that Little French is one of my meals of 2021. From start to finish, the precision and robustness of flavour astounded me and had me wishing that Birmingham had a neighbourhood restaurant of this ilk and quality. The following morning, after uploading the pictures online, I had a message saying that I had “fucking nailed that order”. No Sam, they had nailed that order, I just turned up to eat it. Bristol has no idea how lucky it is.