Best French Restaurant

When our favourite little Quayside cafe, Bistro Buee closed down a couple of years ago, it left a sad looking gap in the market for French food in the area. Overlooking chain-type Café Rouge, it’s only actually Bouchon Bistrot (NE46 3NJ) that springs to mind. Is classic French food just too much for our little Geordie palettes?

apple tarte tatinUnless there’s some we missed, you have to go 30miles down the Tyne Valley to find the nearest French bistro. Bouchon is probably most famous from it’s appearance on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word where it won “Best French Local Restaurant”, an award that you can’t miss as you enter. It might have been a few years ago now but who wouldn’t shout about such a well-known accolade?

We visit on dreary Autumn monday afternoon, but the restaurant is near full for lunch – not surprising with a an excellent value lunch menu offering 2/3 courses for £12.50/£13.95. Changing just about frequently enough, the menu is typical French fare, with uncomplicated homely dishes – think coq au vin,  duck confit, chicken chasseur and you get the idea. The restaurant itself looks tidy, with plenty of French clichés to help you forget it’s raining outside.

pork onion cornichon terrine

Right off the bat, starters are gratifying – see pictured pork terrine, or ballotine chicken & dry cured ham, but what really sets these off are the fantastic accompanying onion & cornichon pickle with the pork, and celery and apple salad with the chicken. It’s simple stuff, done well. Also brought to the table is a lovely baguette and butter – regular readers will know this always scores a tick in our book. Don’t charge £3 for a tiny bun and stone cold butter – that’s you Marco Pierre White Newcastle…

The wine list isn’t as long and French as you might imagine and 90% of it is £20-£30, so you won’t be overwhelmed by the French love of their wine – there should be something here to suit everyone. With no default service charge – service is quietly efficient. We sometimes think service charge of the automatic kind just makes lazy staff sometimes. Easy tips?

steak frites

Every time we’ve been to Bouchon now, we’ve been unable to resist the steak frites. OK, the photo above doesn’t sell it, but if steak is your go-to meal, you need to try this.  More than just for soaking up with your crispy frites, if they were to bottle up the juices that come off the onions and steak, we would buy it.

It’s probably difficult to go wrong with mains. They all top out under £20 – see our coley fillet with new potatoes & sauce bonne femme below – it’s simple but beautiful stuff that so many places get wrong, but done with a little care here goes a long way. They are becoming fewer and fewer, but this is one of those places we haven’t had a single bad plate from.

coley fillet new potatoes

Desserts also shine – it took only a brief chef demonstration at the recent Living North fayre of Bouchon’s apple tarte tatin (pictured top, £5.50), and we were there within 24hrs to try it out in the restaurant. Admittedly, we’ve never been across France sampling all manner of tarts(!), but this tarte tatin is bloody amazing. Sticky caramel soaks into the sweet apples, crisp pastry, and a separate side of caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream – textbook execution of what is pretty much dessert heaven.

goats cheese beetroot terrine

Bouchon is definitely worth a trip to Hexham alone. They are hosting a beaujolais nouveau evening this week which will be no doubt lovely – tell them we sent you in our absence! It’ll be interesting to see how they do with their nearby deli opening soon as well. Go and check it out; you should no excuse for a nice day out in Hexham anyway. Maybe stop at Vallum Farm on the way along?


Information correct 12 November 2012

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