I was meeting my friend Nicola in Islington to see The Writer at the Almeida Theatre; a play that has divided critics from those who 4* love it (Guardian and Telegraph) to The Times who 1* hated it. We tried to go with an open mind but unfortunately the further into the play we got, the more we agreed with The Times – it really was a terrible and pretentious play.
We should have stayed in Bellanger where we’d happily and comfortably settled for our pre-theatre meal. It was Nicola who suggested we ate there. Bellanger is a traditional style French grand café inspired by the classics of Alsace, which means a lot of rich, calorie-laden food but in the most fabulous style: Tartes Flambées, Choucroute à l’Alsacienne, Schnitzels, garnitures of sauerkraut and pommes aligot (cheesy mashed potato), and snails with lots of garlic. It’s not the easiest place to be a vegetarian, though there is a note on the menu to ask for their ‘full vegetarian menu’.
Bellanger is part of the Corbin & King group, the team behind The Wolseley, The Delaunay and the wonderful Brasserie Zédel. In the great Parisian tradition you can go any time of the day from breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, early evening drink, or dinner. A café to suit your every need. There’s also a touch of Paris in the way it spills generously on to the pavement outside, overlooking Islington Green.
Inside it is rather gloriously ‘grand’ in the best Parisian tradition, from highly polished dark wood, gleaming traditional lighting, plush seating and white linen tablecloths. There was even a pianist providing live music in the background; waiters in smart attire with waistcoats and long white aprons. We might have been in Paris but we were in London N.1.
Given our limited time, we opted for the set menu – Table d’Hôte – which is served from 11.30am – 6.30pm daily, with 2 courses for £16.00 and 3 courses for £18.50. The choice is fairly limited with just two choices for each course. But being people who are happy to eat more or less anything, we had no problem. We both chose Chicken Liver Parfait with tomato chutney to begin (the other choice was Soupe à la Bière), and Seared Fillet of Sea Bream with spring vegetables for our main (the alternative was Bavette Steak). We didn’t have dessert but there was Tarte au Citron and Petit-Pot au Chocolat on offer.
To drink, we ordered a large bottle of sparkling water and a 175ml glass of Sauvignon Blanc (£8) each.
A bowl of very delicious and very ‘French’ bread came.
Then our starters.
The parfait was soft, rich, creamy and delicious; the accompanying chutney had just the right amount of tartness to complement it.
The seared sea bream (one of my favourite fish) was perfectly cooked with a crispy skin and gorgeously moist and tasty fish tucked underneath. There was a nice mix of braised spring vegetables, including peas and broad beans, to go with it and a slice of caramelised chicory.
I really liked Bellanger. If we had one in Richmond (rather than the overhyped and overpriced Ivy Café), I’d be seeking part-time residence rights. Meanwhile, I can see it becoming my place-to-go anytime I’m in Islington.
The bill including drinks and service charge was £56 for two.