Byline: FAY MASCHLER
SITTING in LA TROUVAILLE, a new French bistro improbably close to Carnaby Street, already doing bustling business, I watched a couple arrive quite late in the evening without a booking. “Can you find us a table?” they tentatively asked one of the owners. “Mais, bien sur!” he cried, asking only that they wait a few minutes beside the bar. Similar joie de vivre greets a telephone call to book. It is perhaps apt that it takes a couple of Frenchmen to remind us what the restaurant trade should be fundamentally concerned with – hospitality, generosity, succour.
Although the tactics and performances of Thierry Bouteloup and Jean-Charles Adam – both ex-La Poule au Pot – occasionally border on the farcical, La Trouvaille is no ‘Allo ‘Allo operation. Serious gastronomic intent is signalled by the menu credits for suppliers, not just for meat, fish, charcuterie and vegetables but also for bread (Lionel Poilane). It also states that “all our products are free range or organic from people who believe that real traditions and time-honoured methods recreate our heritage”.
I tried both dinner, offered a la carte, and lunch, when a list with almost as much choice is sold at fixed prices. Some dishes overlap but generally lunch dishes tend to be less baroque, which is, as you might imagine, to their advantage. For example, a lunch first course of a tartine (toasted slice of bread) spread with a vinaigrette of chopped pig’s trotters sharpened with olives and gherkins was, to my palate anyway, more enticing than snails served in a creamy sauce “Meme Gabrielle’s style”. She should be told about garlic butter. Similarly, a midday brandade de morue with Roquefort – like a superlative fish pie, said my companion – beat hands down celeri remoulade aux truffes et a l’asperge which gussied up and therefore missed the point of the purity of celeriac remoulade, something emphasised by its traditional monochrome appearance.
The best main courses in the two meals were grilled cutlets of mature Herdwick wether, a sheep with enough confidence and experience to taste like mutton, served with mint aioli, and roasted pork belly, rather misleadingly described as petit sale, daringly, dangerously enriched by an accompaniment of whipped cream, with some preserved plums to cut the cholesterol and Savoy cabbage to introduce good sense. A friend whom we ran into at dinner had only praise for the peculiar pairing of grilled tuna streak with foie gras, an assembly that is garnished with Jerusalem artichoke Sarladaise, the geographical qualifier that indicates black truffles.
The one dessert tried, creme brulee au citron et thym, had achieved the contrast of sharp and shiny with smooth and creamy that makes that confection so desirable. The wine list, largely derived from the south and southwest of France, is a temptation in its own right. There is scope for pushing the boat out but if [pound]20 is your limit, try the Marcillac, Domaine du Cros 1999 at [pound]19.50. Try it anyway. FM
12a Newburgh Street, W1 (020 7287 8488).
Price: Set lunch [pound]16.75 for two courses, [pound]19.50 for three courses plus cheese. Dinner a la carte for two with wine, about [pound]90 inc 12.5 per cent service.
Hours: Mon-Sat noon-3pm and 6-10.30pm.
Credit cards: The major cards except Diner’s.