Editor's note: Bellanger will close permanetly on 11th August 2019.
The Corbyn & King empire (Delaunay, Wolseley, Zedel, Colbert, Fischers, Colony) continues to expand with the all-day Bellanger on Islington Green, which opened in the early 2016 and is modelled on an idealised Alsatian café in Paris. There is wood panelling on the walls and the closely packed tables are covered with neatly ironed white tablecloths. There is good natural light on the side of the room facing Islington Green, and the designers have done a nice job of making the room attractive.
The menu was lengthy and very appealing, mixing in Alsace specialities with more generic crowd-pleasers such as schnitzel, steak and chicken paillard. The wine list ranged in price from to £22.50 to £295 and had several labels from Alsace, though curiously none of the excellent dessert wines that Alsace produces were available. Bruno Sorg Riesling 2013 was listed at £41 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for £10, St Gayan Gigondas 2012 was £57 compared to a retail price of £15, and Weinbach Pinot Gris Cuvee Catherine 2013 was £80 for a wine that will set you back about £32 in a shop.
Tarte flambee (£4.95) is a speciality of Alsace (and Germany), essentially an Alsatian take on pizza with very thin bread dough covered with fromage blanc, lardons and onions as a topping, then baked. The rendition here was excellent, the base suitably delicate and the bacon delivering plenty of flavour (14/20). Crayfish, prawn and avocado cocktail (£11.50) was very pleasant, the shellfish tender and the Marie Rose sauce nicely balanced (13/20).
A pair of sausages (£12.50) was served on a puy lentil base. A Strasbourg sausage featured garlic and hot-smoked pork, and had a pleasing spiciness and plenty of punchy garlic flavour. Wild boar, cranberry and venison sausage had deeper flavour and was also very enjoyable. The puy lentils that served as a base for the meat tasted rather cheap but were properly cooked. Overall this was a robust and fun dish to eat (13/20).
Sea bass (£24) was accurately cooked and had reasonable flavour, served with wild mushrooms that didn’t taste of much along with a somewhat thin tasting red wine vinaigrette (just about 13/20). Whilst the two main courses in themselves were fine, the accompaniments were not. Sauerkraut (£3.75) was disappointing, distinctly soggy and lacking sharpness (9/20). Carrots (£4) were cooked all right but had little flavour, nor any obvious trace of the honey glaze that they were supposed to have (11/20). Mash potatoes (£4.50) were quite buttery but had little in the way of flavour, perhaps due to the quality of the potatoes used (11/20).
Apple tart had hard pastry and oddly tasteless filling (9/20). I was surprised at this given that, for example, the lemon tart at sister restaurant Zedel is actually very good indeed. To be fair, the waitress swapped it without demur for a rum baba that was much better. This dish can easily arrive dried out, but the bread base here was pleasantly moist. To be sure, the creme Chantilly was nothing special and the rum used was pretty cheap and rough if you are used to versions of rum baba at grander restaurants, but overall it was decent enough, and vastly better than the apple tart (12/20). Coffee (£3.75) was the Musetti Paradiso brand, a blend of 70% arabica and 30% robusta beans that is at the high end of the Musetti brand family (along with its Evoluzione coffee). This is certainly more drinkable than the cheaper Musetti coffees, but there are many better coffees to be found in London.
The bill was £99 per head with a good bottle of wine. If you shared a more modest bottle then a typical cost per person would be about £80. Service was capable and friendly other than minor topping up issues, the staff coping well even on a busy Saturday night. The suave Jeremy King himself put in an appearance later in the evening; I am impressed by how often he appears to be in attendance at his own restaurants given the scale of his empire.
Overall, Bellanger has a very appealing menu and does some dishes well. However the meal we had tonight was more erratic in standard than at some other restaurants in the group. As ever with this restaurant family, the room is attractive, the staff pleasant and the menu extremely appealing. Also as ever, the bill that you end up with always ends up being higher than you expect when you go in, and seems rather high for the level of food that appears. However the overall restaurant experience is still a quite enjoyable one, despite its limitations. The owners have correctly understood that for most diners the key to a positive restaurant experience is the atmosphere, the quality of the service and having things on the menu that people want to eat; expensive ingredients and culinary innovation are of interest only to a minority. True to form, Bellanger was packed out, and tables were being turned around us.