SOME music is incredibly evocative and none more so than that of Edith Piaf. As we sat in Le Bistro Beaumartin, with the old gallic diva’s tunes cranked up high, Bea was in raptures.
Le Bistro Beaumartin
161 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 2UQ
Pre-theatre menu: two courses £13.95
Three courses £16.95
Main courses £12.50-£28
It turns out that her dearly departed pa used to have a Piaf tape on a constant loop as he drove home to Glasgow from meetings in London, and she’d have to put up with his taste in music if she wanted a lift back from university. Once in a while on what seemed like interminably long journeys, he would take a break from Autumn Leaves, La Vie En Rose and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien and put on Beethoven’s majestic Emperor Concerto, but it was always a temporary change of mood; after a short burst of Ludwig, Edith would soon be drafted back to accompany their northwards progress.
So, if nothing else, the choice of music at this lovely little city centre bistro (even if it was Piaf cover versions by the inestimable Christine Bovill) would have endeared it to my better half, while I’m a sucker for any food that’s authentically French, whether it’s peasant tucker or haute cuisine. Suffice it to say that Le Bistro Beaumartin had a headstart almost as soon as we sat down. Yet this place has a lot more to offer than merely trading on my Francophilia or Bea’s sentimental taste in music because our experience there was as impressive as it was enjoyable.
That this might be a truly decent meal dawned on me as soon as we sat down and the bread arrived. The state of the breadbasket can be a window to, if not the chef’s soul, then at least his level of ambition. On this front Le Bistro Beaumartin scored highly, with its absolutely fantastique sourdough bread, which along with the snails, wine and frog’s legs is the only major ingredient not sourced locally, instead being delivered three times a week from the Poilane bakery in Paris. It’s worth the carbon footprint: light, chewy, and clearly freshly made, it instantly made us sit up and take notice.
It shouldn’t, however, have come as too much of a surprise that there was a very French attention to gastronomic detail at play given the bistro’s gallic antecedents. The co-owner and general manager Richard Dupupet is from Romenay in Burgundy (the bistro is named after his grandparents’ farmhouse) while his fellow co-owner, head chef Andrew Stott, is a Scot who left 25 years ago and has only just made his way back after years spent working predominantly in London and France, with the past six years spent in a kitchen on the Champs-Elysées.
Now open for the best part of two years, this informal and relaxed restaurant, which also has a wonderfully authentic sister deli called L’Epicerie Beaumartin on Great Western Road, has become one of Glasgow’s best-established city centre watering holes. Diners often start their evening by sinking into the sofa by the big bar just inside the front door before heading to the rear of the building where there’s room for 70-odd diners, with many of them subsequently heading off to the nearby Pavilion Theatre or Theatre Royal.
It didn’t take us long to realise why it had become established so speedily. Bea’s starter of rillettes of salmon, infused with an edge of pastis and lemon, was dense and intense, yet combined perfectly with the bread to make for an enjoyably rustic beginning to our meal. My three snails and two sautéed frogs’ legs were slightly disappointing: the snails were fine, but there’s nothing better than mopping up the butter and garlic with bread after you’ve emptied the shell, and this trio came served baldly on the plate, sans gunk. The frog’s legs were good though: beautifully sautéed and subtly flavoured, they were, as my youngest son once said, like chicken but better.
Bea’s main course of beef bourguignon, served in the traditional Burgundian manner over macaroni, was a sumptuous bowl of comfort food. The half dozen big chunks of meat that had been marinated in red wine for 24 hours were so soft that they fell apart under her fork, while the dark, rich gravy would warm a body on even the coldest Glasgow evening.
My rabbit in a mustard sauce on tagliatelle was an equally traditional countryman’s dish that was produced with the same flair and brio. This was proper peasant food, the meat still on the bones, and needing to be stripped, but all the better for it.
A mildly underwhelmed Bea rounded off with a run-of-the-mill tarte tatin, but I didn’t for one moment regret my decision to head for the cheeseboard. Served with a quince jelly and another basket of that moreish bread, the trio of perfectly ripe French cheeses was spot on, with the star of the show being the pungent Roquefort, although the less bombastic Tomme de Savoie and Gruyere-style Comté more than held their end up.
This was an enjoyable meal served in unpretentious and convivial surroundings by staff who gave every indication of really loving their job and desperately wanting their customers to share that passion for Le Bistro Beaumartin. While this meal was not a stellar dining out experience, it provided exactly what its two owners set out to supply: the sort of really strong, authentically French food that makes our gallic cousins the luckiest gastronomes alive.