23 June 2006
168 Bellenden Road,
Peckham SE15 4BW
Tel: 0207 252 9424
All talent, no gimmicks
YOU KNOW it's summer when you come home from dining alfresco with insect bites, rather than a cold and after this week's review it became evident I wasn't the only one who'd been well fed at our table
Still, on the bright side, the sunny days of late have opened up a whole wealth of opportunities to eat outdoors, although the novelty draw can leave you sacrificing quality food just to be able to squeeze onto a bench outdoors with an overpriced plate of charred meat in your hands. But, it seems Bellenden Road's key restaurant has re-opened just in time to offer sun seeking customers more of a fine dining experience.
And where could be more picturesque to sit by the pavement watching the sun set than Peckham? Okay, don't think about that one for too long, but Bellenden Brasserie, (formerly the Peckham Experiment, which has apparently changed the name to sound more French!) is actually a lovely spot to wind down the day. The terrace is protected from the traffic by a row of neatly kept shrubs, which shelter you from the passing cars and offer seclusion (or can be hidden behind if you're out with someone you shouldn't be.)
The temporary closure of the eatery was down to a change of hands, but one that has resulted in very few other changes. The head chef Eric, who hails from Lyons, has stayed on, as have his kitchen team and waiting staff (ours for the night, having worked at Le Chardon and the Ocean, was an established regular on the burgeoning south Southwark Gallic scene). The menu is still modern French cuisine and the décor is pretty much the same. A floor length plastic awning over the door area provides more privacy from the street (even if it feels a bit like being inside of a eurocamp tent) and inside is sleek and modern, with green tiles, original artwork on the walls and a brightly lit bar. The whole streetside wall of the restaurant is made entirely of doors that open out into the pavement area, creating a relaxed and airy atmosphere.
Complementary olives, marinated in Provencal herbs were a delicious start to the meal, and plentiful enough to keep us busy while we perused the menu's many options. As well as the classically French starters (moules marinieres) there are more unusual dishes (raw marinated salmon with garlic toast) as well as a variety of salads to start with. Salade Lorraine (£3.80) was simple and light but morishly tasty. My friend's leek and potato soup from the specials board (£3.80) was also delicious and, considering it's made from the most boring ingredients on earth, had an impressive flavour that suggested talent, not gimmicks, dictate what comes out of the brasserie's kitchen.
While my non meat eating (well, unless you count fish) companion went for Tuna steak (£13.00) I considerately ordered French black pudding served with caramelised apples and calvados cream sauce (£11.90).
The tuna was meaty, but tender and cooked to perfection and came with an unusual, sharp salsa of mangos and apples, which has been chopped up so finely they had the texture of a sauce. A side order of carrots and green beans were perfectly al dente and actually tasted refreshingly healthy, rather than drowned in butter. The black pudding was a whole sausage of the stuff, with a soft, rich inside that looked more like chocolate brownie than the dried out discs of black more often than not found in cheap English breakfasts. A great deal of presentation had gone into the meal as well, as the sweet, caramelised apples were surrounded by intricate potato rosettes and precisely arranged dabbings of sauce.
To begin with our only fellow diners had a small child in tow who had, it seemed, just recently mastered the art of banging things on tables, but as the night drew in the restaurant appeared to be filling in fast with couples looking for a romantic evening.
The dessert menu is equally varied as the main. Flapjack and Marscapone parfait with toffee sauce (£4.00) was predictably sweet and sticky, while Caramelised Apricots tasted much like the apples from my main, only accompanied by delicious pistachio ice cream (£4.00).
Glasses in each colour of the house wine (Cuvee des Amandiers Rouge £2.80 a glass) went down well and helped us imagine an atmosphere continental enough to do justice to the wonderfully authentic food.
FOOD (1-5) 4
AMBIENCE (1-5) 3
VALUE FOR MONEY (1-5) 3
DISABLED ACCESS YES
DISABLED TOILET YES
PRE BOOKING YES
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