This restaurant has an interesting theme – a restaurant specialising in cheese and dishes made with cheese (you can even have fondue, which I haven’t seen on a menu for many a year). This venture was run by a couple of enthusiastic young Frenchmen; indeed there was a strong Gallic feel here, with every staff member we encountered being French. The low-ceilinged dining room on the ground floor had just five tables (there is also a space downstairs) and was quite rustic, with wooden floor and no tablecloths. Starters ranged from £4.90 - £10.60, mains from just £6.40 up to £26 for a steak, with fondues around £17 per person. Desserts cost from £4.50 to £6.90.
The not obviously well chosen French wine list had choices such as Scherer Reserve Pinot Gris 2008 at £26 for wine that costs about a tenner (I had not tried this wine before, and will not do so again – grapey and basic), Paveil de Luze 2002 at £58.80 for a wine that costs £23 in the shops, and at the high end a heavily marked up Coffinet-Duverney Premiere Cru Chassagne Montrachet 2006 at £112 for a wine that you can buy for £35 retail.
We did not encounter any bread until the cheese course, but it was not good (bought from the nearby Bluebird Cafe). When I asked why they did not buy better bread, such as that from Boulangerie de Paris (also run by some enthusiastic young French guys) I was told that the Boulangerie de Paris bread was indeed good, but expensive. You get what you pay for, I’m afraid; alternatively they could try making it themselves from scratch, which is more effort but is relatively cheap. There was an amuse-bouche of mushroom duxelle on Comté toast, served with a little tomato on the side, and this was simple but enjoyable enough, though the mushrooms were not really seasoned (12/20).
To start with, Caeser salad had decent leaves, good anchovies, acceptable olives but seriously overcooked, grey tuna (11/20). My Munster pané was liquid Munster inside a deep-fried breadcrumb coating, served with salad leaves and ham, with a few cashew nuts. I actually think the cheese would have been better left untouched, as the cooking rather detracted from its distinctive taste, while the ham was ordinary. The salad leaves were fine but the dressing was most odd – in patches oily, in other patches highly acidic, as if it had not been mixed properly (maybe 11/20).
For main course I had a nice dish of chicken with mushrooms and a gratin to one side; here the flavours were balanced better, and the chicken was properly cooked, though it had limited flavour (12/20). My wife had tartes flambees with ceps, a sort of pizza from Alsace with a thin bread base covered with onions and crème fraiche, then topped with (in this case) ceps. This was pleasant enough, though it again lacked seasoning, and overall I can see why the Italians won the argument about how to do a savoury dish with a bread base (11/20).
Apple tart flambéed at the table with Calvados was again served on the same bread base. Here the problem was that the apples (Gala) were utterly tasteless, and would have been better with pastry – it is not often that I leave most of an apple dessert (10/20). By contrast the cheese board was interesting. The supplier was French rather than one of the usual London cheese suppliers, and the cheeses were served with a range of chutneys. Two cheeses in particular stood out: Roquefort was excellent, as was an obscure Alsace cheese I have never tasted before. Yet Brillat Savarin was not creamy enough, a Brie was not ripe and a goat cheese was merely pleasant. This was an inconsistent board (14/20 overall) though the Roquefort was special. Coffee was a generous measure of poor quality espresso.
Service was charming, and it is hard to dislike a place with such an appealing idea and staff that seem genuinely enthusiastic. The trouble is that the best element of the meal was the cheese board, the one thing that the kitchen had not touched. There were a range of problems with the other dishes, and that is a shame – this is place that I really wanted to like. The score is realistically between 11/20 and 12/20. The bill came to £44 a head without service.