Restaurant review: Bistro Provence

Bistro Provence, Commercial Quay. Picture: Jane Barlow
Bistro Provence, Commercial Quay. Picture: Jane Barlow
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The duck leg had the kind of perfect skin Lloyd Cole might have written about

88 Commercial Street seems to be where French restaurants go to die.

There was the late Daniel’s, then a branch of La Garrigue (RIP) and now, slipping into the slot before it’s even had time to go cold, Bistro Provence.

Strange that restaurants don’t stick, as this is a nice premises, in the same block as longterm residents the Kitchin and Chop Chop, with a light and airy conservatory area out back. However, you imagine that they might not get a lot of passing trade, as the external feng shui is a bit wonky. To track down the entrance, you have to enter the arcade that intercepts Commercial Street and its quay (for a small fee, I’d be happy to wander round the block wearing a Bistro Provence sandwich board, call me).

Owned by former employees of La Garrigue – maitre d’ and patron, Michael Fons from Marseille, and chef, Paul Malinen – this place offers a Provence-inspired menu. There is a budget lunch option at £12.50 for two courses, or three courses for £16 (with a choice of four options per course). Or go for the fancier all day a-la-carte at £21 for two courses, or three for £26.

We paid a slightly unnecessary £3.50 supplement for three baked scallops a la Provençale from the latter food list. This trio of silky-middled dollops were served on a wet heap of blistered tomatoes, wilted peppers, thyme sprigs and red onion, all of which had been impregnated with the essential life force of endless bulbs of garlic.

Lovely, but it was trumped by our other starter of Parmesan and salsify rolls. This consisted of three rods of this skinny white vegetable, each of which had been slanketed into a slightly oily but addictively crunchy pipe of cheese-topped pastry. On the side – a buttercup-yellow aioli dip and a salad of frisee and toasted almonds. Best meat-free dish I’ve had for ages.

Mains were just as impressive.

Mine was the chubby fillet of crispy skinned coley, which was balanced on a pile of slippery red peppers and translucent braised fennel, and anointed by a canary-coloured turmeric sauce. As a potato head, I’d usually bemoan the absence of carb, but, to be fair, I’ve only just realised there wasn’t any.

My dining partner had done some bad ordering, when it came to the duck leg.

“Not more ratatouille!”, she griped, as she poked a fork at her second consecutive pile of soft chopped vegetables. She got over it though, as the golden and chunky quacker leg had the kind of perfect skin that Lloyd Cole might have penned a song about. This also came with quenelles of tar-black tapenade and whole cloves of roasted garlic, with soft-centres like Lockets. Fab.

Kudos to this place for offering a selection of tempting sounding desserts. I felt like I’d won the golden ticket when I was presented with an elegant sliver of dark chocolate tart, with a crisp pastry and rich ganache filling. This sugary triangle was flanked by a squishy dollop of salted caramel sauce and a blob of ice-cream that tasted like Werther’s Originals.

The raspberry parfait was slightly less successful, simply because you really need to brush with Sensodyne for at least a week before tackling whole frozen berries like the ones that were suspended in these fruity pink slices. They came with a yo-yo-sized and very subtly flavoured lemon and thyme macaron, which made for a sugar rush of an ending to a smashing lunch.

With a rating of 16 out of 20, the vital signs are looking good, so let’s hope this place doesn’t snuff it anytime soon. Excuse me while I look out my sandwich board.

How much?

Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £55.50

FOOD: 8/10

AMBIENCE: 8/10

TOTAL: 16/20