Le Petit Bistro was opened twelve years ago by the husband and wife team of chef Mike Perrin and his wife Delfina. It is in the centre of St Peters Port, with a bar at the front as you enter (labelled Le Petit Cafe) and the restaurant behind it. The room is quite casual in style, split into two areas, with tightly packed tables and no tablecloths. The menu is very classical, with stalwarts like fish soup and tarte tatin on the quite extensive list of dishes. The wine list appears on an iPad, and is very ambitious for a bistro, perhaps reflecting the purchasing power of some of the islanders - Guernsey is a tax haven, and richer than the UK. Example labels included Chateau Pierreux 2015 at £26 for a bottle that will set you back £14 in the high street, Chateau Pontensac 2012 at £45 compared to its retail price of £25, and the classy Louis Jadot Referts Puligny Montrachet 2013 a relativel bargain at £94.95 for a bottle that will set you back £73 in a shop. Tax exiles may indulge in delights such as Mouton Rothschild 2001 at just £350 compared to its current retail price of £473, and drink Chateau d’Yquem 1982 with their dessert at £482 for a wine whose current market value is £395. This is not in itself an excessive relative mark-up, but the pricing is strange nonetheless, since a bottle of the 2005 Yquem was on the list at £240, a genuine bargain given that its retail price is currently £382. The labelling on the list was sloppy in places. Vintages were missing for some of the basic wines, and there was ambiguity too: Kaiken from Argentina not only had no vintage but could be one of several different wines: they make Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc amongst others, but the list description was just “Kaiken”.
Bread was a nondescript white roll that I assume was bought in, but at least came with a pleasant chicken liver pate to spread on it. Fish soup was a suitably hearty affair, served with rouille, grated Parmesan and croutons on the side, The soup had plenty of flavour, and was rustic but enjoyable (easily 13/20). Scallops were less good, being very small in size and lacking in inherent sweetness, though cooked properly. These came with celeriac and apple and some black pudding crumble, which are all sensible accompaniments, but I just wish that the scallops had been better quality. Given Guernsey’s location there should be no difficulty in finding excellent shellfish (11/20).
We shared a whole sea bass, apparently caught that day, which was grilled and then filleted by one of the waiters. The filleting was not very skilful, and I wish that I had insisted that we did it ourselves, especially since I could call on the services of my wife, who trained as an eye surgeon, and always ends up, when she fillets a fish, with a skeleton as perfect as something in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The fish was properly cooked and had good flavour, though we had to pick around the bones in places left by the inept filleting. The fish came with a simple but pungent garlic and chilli sauce (12/20). On the side gratin dauphinois arrived visibly burnt, which I returned to the kitchen. A better version appeared in due course, though to my taste it lacked enough cream.
Lemon tart turned out to be more lemon meringue than tart, though there was a layer of decent pastry, and the lemon was in reasonable balance. This was served with a very good yuzu sorbet (13/20). Sadly a tarte tatin was quite a tragic affair, the Granny Smith apples tasteless and insufficiently caramelised, the tart having soggy pastry. It is likely that the apples had been pre-caramelised and then placed on the pastry at the final stage, which makes its poor texture all the less excusable. There was also a blob of what I assumed would be vanilla ice cream but turned out to be an unrecognisable substance that superficially resembled creme fraiche but never actually melted, so I rather dread to think what it was. This was a dismal rendition of what is usually one of my favourite desserts (7/20). Coffee was Lavazza, served with a particularly grim rock-hard little Madeleine that could have doubled as an effective projectile.
Service was, not to put too fine a point on it, a shambles. The waiter that brought the starter arrived with a cheery “who ordered what?”, which even basic high street chains manage to avoid with the barest modicum of staff training. At least they did not try to top up the wine but left it on the table. The most irritating thing was their leaving the dirty plates on the table for what seemed an eternity, something that happened with other tables too. Waiters would dash by on assorted missions, defying any attempt to get their attention, punctuated by one particularly sad character who periodically wandered around from table to table trying to deliver food, rather than actually knowing which table to bring it to. He did this on several occasions, as if table numbers were a distant future invention. Every time he appeared with new dishes from the kitchen he literally went down the dining room, one table at a time, asking “is this yours?”, repeatedly the process until he eventually stumbled on the correct table. It was an unusual approach, entertaining in its way, but not one that I have ever witnessed in all my years of dining. It was as if they had used Fawlty Towers as a training video. The bill came to £86 a head with some excellent white Burgundy. If you shared a modest bottle then a typical cost per head might be around £55. Although there were some decent dishes here there were also some shockers, and the service was beyond parody.