It has been a long time in coming, but now we have it: a cosy place with the kind of food you’d expect to eat in a French home. That was precisely what Marcel Frichot, owner of the Bistrot Coco and former owner of The Daffodil wanted to do. His new bistrot/restaurant is hidden in a lower ground floor in Cambray Place. When we phoned Marcel he said, ‘better not come Friday or Saturday, we are so booked out.’ It is not altogether surprising as he brought Tim Hayward, his chef from the Daffodil to bring his experience to the Bistrot Coco. So we went for an evening meal on a Wednesday night. It was so full of diners we were lucky to get a table. I had been there for summer lunches on the beautiful private terrace. But now that it is dark so early the restaurant really comes into its own with its warm ambiance. You are surrounded by black and white photos of French singers and actors and French music can be heard – and even in the spotless ladies room you find yourself in the company of Brigitte Bardot and Jacques Brel.
On the menu there are none of the hyped-up descriptions one often finds on menus these days. It is underplayed along the lines ‘it’s not what you say, it’s what you do’. When you order the staff explain how dishes are cooked.
I love soup so I chose the Roast Tomato Soup with basil oil which was beautifully tangy. My partner let me taste his moist and cheesy Tarte à l’Oignon, an onion tart with a lovely crumbly base. When my plaice arrived it was the whole fish on the bone. For those who will eat only filleted fish let me assure them that if fish is as perfectly cooked as mine was, eating it off the bone is no problem at all. Just follow the bone as you lift the flesh off. The slightly sweet prawns which accompanied my fish melted in the mouth. We had asked for a bowl of mixed vegetables all of which still a hint of a crunch – perfect.
My partner ordered the Feuillantine de Saumon, salmon which came wrapped in a strip of crisp puff pastry with crab and leeks. The juices from the fish and the vegetables blended beautifully. He ordered chips – word has got around that the Bistrot Coco has the best in town. ‘They are cooked twice,’ said Jamie, the manager who runs everything so smoothly you’d hardly think it is work to him.
For dessert the figs with crème fraiche on crumbly short-crust pastry with slices of oranges proved irresistible to my partner. I took what was modestly described as apple tart, but which was in fact apple mousse baked in pancake mode and served with real vanilla ice cream. Neither of us are great fans of white wine, so we took the house Merlot which was good.
Jamie Davis told me about the pre-theatre menu. ‘We open at 6pm. If guests are here by then, they are guaranteed to have food on the table within 25 minutes.’ At lunchtime one can also eat sandwiches and lighter dishes.
The Christmas menu is already out with all the favourites plus foie gras and a delicious salmon terrine flavoured with dill. The menu is seasonal - in the winter there will be more substantial dishes on offer. On a cold wintery evening I am looking forward to eating something I haven’t eaten for a long time - the famous Poule au Pot.
You can read a full interview ‘Eating à la Française’ with Marcel Frichot on page 58 of our July 2010 issue available on the The Cheltonian website. There is also an electronic version of the article available at: