(Flags in Toulouse)
The events of recent weeks have been an uphill struggle, to put it mildly, so Monsieur and I were in dire need of a date to distract us. On a recent weekend, instead of brunching on my fine Eggs Benedict at home we went out. I’d been hearing good things about a place called Bloody French in Westbourne Grove so we thought we’d give it a whirl. Well, actually, I thought we’d give it a whirl. Monsieur was in favour of our local deli, Raoul’s, or nearby Café Rouge. In hindsight, his preferences were safer, but I argued that it was time to try somewhere new, so Bloody French it was.
The online reviews for Bloody French gave a very different picture from what we experienced. The positive posts were high in praise for everything from the food to the service; the negative complained of lackadaisical wait staff and booking mix ups. We were also cautioned that it got quite crowded at weekends, so we booked a table but on arriving no one bothered to ask if we’d reserved. A waitress with a rushed air about her, even though the restaurant wasn’t even half full, plonked us down next to the front door, and thus we benefitted from gushing cold air every time it opened, which, luckily for us was not too often.
The menus were written on small blackboards which stood on the table. There was a deal on – 2 courses and a hot drink for £16.90. Hot drink? Could they be more specific? When Monsieur later asked the waiter to clarify this, it was as you’d expect – coffee, tea or hot chocolate, but it just seemed strange to offer a free “hot drink” with a lunch menu. Breakfast – fine. Lunch – wrong. Given that the menu only had a couple of vaguely breakfasty options, and it was now past 1pm, this was definitely lunch.
The bread arrived and Monsieur, the resident bread connoisseur in our household, took one sniff and said “Ocado.” For those of you who don’t live in the UK, Ocado is the supermarket delivery service that we often use. Sometimes we buy long-life baguettes that we can keep in the cupboard as an emergency measure, flinging one into the oven on the odd occasion where we’ve run out of bread and can’t be bothered battling the ‘fine’ English weather to run out to the shop for more. This looked like an under-cooked emergency baguette to me. I took a slice, bit into it and had to agree with Monsieur. “You’re right,” I said, “it tastes just like Delice de France and it needs another 5 minutes in the oven.” In a place that purports to be French, with French wait staff and visible patronage from the local French community, this was a proper faux pas. The real French don’t do heat-up bread, at least not in public.
Surprisingly (if you believe the bad online reviews), we didn’t have to wait long for our food to arrive. Monsieur and I both ordered the feuilleté with chèvre and pesto to start. The pastry was spread with tasty dark pesto, more like a tapenade in flavour, and the chèvre was perfectly warm as opposed to sticky melting goo but the pastry itself was once more undercooked. By rights it should have been golden and crackling when it arrived, instead of which it both looked and tasted a bit pale and soggy. I started to wonder whether the feuilletés were also bought in from somewhere like Delice de France and then someone in the kitchen hadn’t read the directions on the side of the pack.
To give credit where it’s due, our waiter was an eager young Frenchman who presented and cleared our plates without delay. We were well looked after in that regard. However, my main course just about finished me off. I had chosen the Salade Landaise – a country salad of endive tossed with potatoes, slices of smoked duck breast and duck gizzards. This is one of my favourite French salad treats, but sadly not at Bloody French. The salad looked a few days old, with brown bits on leaves that should be white and zero crispiness left in it. It was limp, like wet tissue. The new potatoes, which should have had some texture to them, were wrinkled and mushy. They tasted like old kitchen leftovers, which are fine if they’re in your own kitchen, but not when you’re dining out. The redeeming feature of the salad was the duck breast – to me these morsels embody the south west of France. I even like the gizzards. Normally. But when I bit into my third or fourth gizzard, something went horribly wrong and for the first time ever I had to say I didn’t like the gizzard. In fact, that’s a mild way of putting it. I almost gagged my stomach contents into the middle of my still quite-full plate. That was the end of my interest in lunch. I make a far superior Salade Landaise at home so I won’t be coming to Bloody French for a repeat performance of this weak effort.
As I quietly choked on the foul-tasting gizzard Monsieur was tucking into the far more reliable steak frites and they were, quite simply, steak frites. You’d have to be the village idiot to get this meal wrong but for once, at a single glance, I could tell that Monsieur could also do better if he’d cooked this himself. Monsieur may not cook very much these days, not now that he’s ‘hired’ me, but he certainly knows how to make himself a good plate of steak frites.
On the beverage front, I had asked for a glass of rosé. It was a small glass (175ml) of regular pink plonk that certainly didn’t warrant the £5.00 we paid for it. The sparkling Badoit was as you’d expect, but rather pricey considering that it’s water, not wine, and Jesus isn’t likely to perform His miracles at Bloody French any time soon. The cappuccini were hot, as advertised, but I’m not going to dedicate any more time to a hot drink with nothing more exciting to its name than a frothy top. It tasted exactly as you’d expect – nothing more, nothing less. This could have been a Starbuck’s coffee i.e. nothing to write home about.
Speaking of frothy tops, the couple just next to us were the obvious product of a Big Night Out and a subsequent one night stand. He was tall, strawberry blond and very English, right down to his Oxford flop of hair, tweed jacket and tan brogues. She was blonde with big eyes and a fine pair of bazookas which were pushed into the public arena by a hypnotic lacy pink bra which was difficult to ignore as it peeked out from a leave-nothing-to-the-imagination white blouse. The food at Bloody French was awful but the entertainment of this pair partly made up for that.
“Are your eyelashes REALLY that long?” asked English. The girl giggled, batting said lashes up at the object of her interest in a way that screamed “I want to lick whipped cream off your torso!” And somehow, without ever mentioning the words ‘false’ or ‘fake’, she admitted that her eyelashes were enhanced as she pushed her upper arms into her sides, promoting her assets once again. “I really shouldn’t go out so much,” she purred, coyly. “Why not?” asked English, genuinely confused by this statement. “Oh because I’ve been out so many times recently and I get really tired.” If you’re male and, like English, you’re confused by this, let me explain what she’s really trying to say. By mentioning that she goes out a lot, she’s saying that she’s popular with a keen social life. She probably thinks he’ll find that attractive, so call this self-advertising, but for all we know, she’s a homebody with a knitting habit. She’s also trying to tell him that she’s ready to give up the long nights for something a bit quieter, presumably him, if he plays his cards right. Given the amount of hair flicking, giggling, bosom thrusting and eye-batting that was going on to my right, I’m pretty sure this girl thought she’d found a catch and she wasn’t about to let go in a hurry. Isn’t human nature fascinating? Lastly, had Darwin been with us, he would have used this couple as an example of natural selection. Physically, they were very well matched.
Apart from the table-side entertainment with heaving bosoms, however, we won’t be returning to Bloody French. Why? Because for us, eating at Bloody French was a Bloody Big Mistake. Point final.