Oxfordian French

I was recently invited for a meal out in, of all places, Oxford. The choice was Pierre Victoire, an independent family run French style restaurant. This is no way a regular haunt so was interested to see what the food was going to be like. What surprised me the most was how crowded the place was for a Wednesday evening. True there were a couple of big groups in, but it appeared to me that every table was taken. I don’t think I was the only one that was surprised, I got the feeling the staff were surprised too. They took our orders and then forty minutes later took them again as the original order had gone “missing”. Later on the desert choices went missing too! In the end we were in the restaurant for four hours, in reality I think it could have been much shorter. I did note though that other people weren’t getting forgotten as we were.

I really liked the atmosphere and the design of the place, it felt rustic French to me, no pretentions, this was going to be good solid French cooking, no messing. There were no fancy tablecloths for example. I don’t go to France much these days (okay the last time was nearly twenty years ago) but my memories of the restaurants I use to eat at, were family run affairs with great food. They weren’t chains with system cooking, these places cooked their food from fresh and used good local ingredients.

The house wine was a rough and ready red wine that wasn’t unpleasant, but did lack finesse, however that didn’t really matter as this was rustic restaurant and the wine suited this environment just fine.

The menu wasn’t too short, but also wasn’t excessively long either. I always worry about huge menus, how on earth do they manage to keep the ingredients fresh for such a range of choices. If you have a huge kitchen with lots of chefs and lots of covers then fine, I understand, but a small place with not too many covers you sometimes think how? Well actually I know how, the places use tins and jars. I remember going to an Italian restaurant in London and they had one of these huge menus, I distinctly recall the tomato sauce I had on my pasta was from a jar, it certainly wasn’t fresh. So looking over the menu at Pierre Victoire I wasn’t disappointed with the number of choices I was inspired and looking forward to ordering and eating.

For my starter my immediate reaction was to go with the pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips. Upon reflection I did quite like the idea of the Moules or the Crab Salad. However in the end I went with my first choice of the pigeon.

pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips

This was beautifully cooked, pink, tender and lots of flavour. The red win jus was just right and had the potential to be salty, but was seasoned perfectly. I did enjoy the parsnip chips and the sweet potato, but did think that there was slightly too much of the sweet potato. As a result for a starter it was quite a substantial dish. Having said that, it was beautifully cooked and I really enjoyed it.

For my main course I was torn between a range of dishes. I did like the sound of the chicken, Suprême de Volaille, a chicken breast roasted with a baby spinach & wild mushroom farce and served with gratin dauphinoise and a red wine reduction. However I always seem to be cooking chicken at home, so really wanted something other than chicken (but it did sound nice).

The steak and frites (chips) would have been the “boring” choice, so that was another item on the menu eliminated.

I really did quite like the idea of the roasted duck magret and confi’d duck leg served on a leek and potato rosti with a blackberry and ginger sauce, but as I had had the pigeon for a starter,I felt it would have been too similar a dish.

In the end I went with Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème.

Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème

The mussels were lovely and fresh, there was a good sized portion and they were delicious. Slight criticism was that the diced onion in the sauce was undercooked, but apart from that it was a dish full of flavour and very satisfying. I also really enjoyed the pommes frites that were the right size and texture.

I did like that the restaurant also served bread and unsalted President butter along with the meal, perfect as an appetiser and to mop up juices and sauce.

Desert for me was a no brainer, it was going to the cheese. Well so I thought, I did for a second or two consider the hazelnut desert however the thought of plate of cheese won out. Someone else did order the hazelnut dish and I didn’t think that much of it. I was expecting more of a pave, a slab of sweet terrine (or pate), but what they had was very different.

The cheese and accompaniments arrived on a wooden chopping board. Alongside the three portions of cheese consisting of Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan, was bread, biscuits, celery, grapes and chutney.

Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan

Didn’t eat the celery, don’t like celery, never liked it. Cheese was good, even the strong Roquefort was nice with the chutney.

Overall a delicious meal and some great company too. I finished my meal off with a single espresso which was perfect.

We chose from the “Party Menu” which was £21 for three courses.

French Style

Last year when visiting Nottingham for an event, myself and David Sugden, had a meal at French Living, as you might expect a French themed restaurant.

Not knowing a city means that you are either dependent on recommendations from friends there, going to a chain (with the usual potential of disappointment) or taking a chance (with an equal chance of disappointment).

Usually what I would do in these situations is roam the streets for a while looking at various places and seeing what was available. Sometimes this is successful, and sometimes it is downright a nightmare. I did this once in Preston and had a really nice meal, did it in London and had an Italian nightmare of a meal!

So I did something that I hadn’t done before (which surprised even me) and searched the internet for restaurants. I have used the internet to find restaurants (that I know of, or people recommended) but this was the first time I searched for suitable restaurants. I arrived at a selection, and I read and checked the reviews to see what other people thought.

I am slightly wary of reviews (and to be honest personal recommendations) as people’s perceptions of what makes a good restaurant vary so much. Some people will recommend (or not) a place on the quality of the food, others on the quantity of food, some on the ambiance, some even on the availability of car parking or a child’s play area! I remember someone recommending a place, purely on the basis that they gave you so much food you couldn’t eat it all, fair enough if you’re very hungry and don’t worry that much about what you eat I guess. A lot depends I guess on why you go out to eat. The context is also quite important, a quiet dinner for two is one thing, a group of you eating ramen and noodles at Wagamamas is something else. So as you might expect I was slightly sceptical of anything I read.

Having read a fair few reviews, I compiled a list on which French Living was one of a few choices. Why did we end up in French Living, well the main reason was that it was the first place on my list we found…

I think I have a good sense of direction and spatial awareness, so know where I am and where to find places. The reality is in fact very different, and if I choose not to accept that, then that is not just a problem for me, but also for people who believe me when I say that I do know where I am and where I am going. Arriving in Nottingham City Centre, I thought I knew where to go and park, it’s not as though I hadn’t been before, but in the end had no idea really where the centre was, where best to park and what was it with all those buses and taxis? In the end I did end up in a car park, no idea where it was and if I would be able to get back in again to collect my car.

So of we walked to find a place to eat, and as it happens the first place we found on my list was French Living. For future reference it’s at 27 King St, Nottingham, NG1 2AY. It certainly looked the part and reminded me of many of the (real) French places I had eaten at when I was younger.

Looking over the menu, there was quite a wide choice, though for me there were some good choices on the fixed price Menu Gastronomique so I went with that. With four choices per course, you might have thought it was limited, well even on the main menu there were only ten choices of main courses in all.

For my starter I chose Moules au Vin Blanc.

Moules au Vin Blanc

This was a bowl of whole fresh mussels steamed in shallot, garlic, parsley and cream broth. I do like moule, but rarely have them when I go out to eat as more often than not, they are pre-cooked and then reheated in the microwave, you know the kind that are easily purchased in the supermarket. It’s not as I don’t like that, to be honest I do have them now and again from the supermarket, it’s much more if I am going out to eat then I want freshly cooked food, not reheated food. Too often I find these days many places are just reheating food from a central supplier, rather than cooking it fresh themselves. These did taste as though they were freshly cooked, and from the look of the shells, they looked like it too. The broth was nice and I did enjoy dunking the bread in. As with any seafood broth it was quite salty, but not excessively so.

For my main course I had considered the Cassoulet de Castelnaudary, but wasn’t sure, so in the end I went with Chevreuil aux Myrtilles, medallions of wild Scottish venison cooked rare with red wine and blueberry sauce – gratin dauphinois and vegetable garnish.

Chevreuil aux Myrtilles

Well this was a wonderful dish, full of different flavours, the sauce contrasting well with the full flavour of the venison. I was pleased with the venison which, though having lots of flavour, wasn’t overstrong or overpowering. It was very tender and there was a good sized portion too. I did enjoy the gratin dauphinois which makes a nice difference to chips or pomme frites. Overall a really nice dish.

If you know me, or have read the blog, you will realise, given the choice instead of choosing a sweet desert I much prefer cheese. So it was no surprise for my “desert” I went with Assiette de Fromages, a selection of three unpasteurised French cheeses served with bread and mixed salad leaves.

Assiette de Fromages

I was less impressed with this course, I felt a little short changed on the cheese and would have liked to have a little more. Having said that it was very nice cheese.

Overall it was a really good meal, and the reviews I had read online were reasonably accurate and authentic. If I ever found myself in Nottingham again and I could find it, I would certainly go again.