Parisian passion

mushroom tapenade

This corner bistro is bringing a taste of Paris to one of Bristol’s busiest streets, writes Sammy Milton

Located on the corner of the ever-popular Cheltenham Road is an exciting new dining prospect that has fast become one of my favourite places to eat. La Guinguette is a Paris-style bistro that’s doing things a little differently, headed up by the fantastic French trio that is husband and wife Jérôme and Roxane, and their best friend Ophélie.

Good, old-fashioned French food is hard to find in Bristol. That’s not to say that we don’t already have a couple of bright sparks doing it (here’s looking at you, Bar Buvette), but it’s still something of a rarity – and certainly the local area has been crying out for it. La Guinguette opened to high acclaim last year and has been pulling in the punters ever since – I’m just ashamed it’s taken me this long to eat there.

We turned up on a bitterly cold Wednesday evening, chilled to the bone with rumbling tummies, and stepped into the restaurant – it truly was like walking into a Parisian bistro. Plush red booths commandeered every corner, with candles placed prettily on each table and a soft glow from the fairy lights that adorned the ceiling. Old French prints were hung on each wall, and the open kitchen was a hive of activity.

Seated in one of said booths, we got chatting to manager Jérôme. Him, Roxane and Ophélie have worked in the restaurant trade for years, and having moved from Paris to Bristol, wanted to bring with them their knowledge and passion of traditional French cuisine. Their care and compassion was immediately apparent, as Jérôme wowed us with his selection of French wine, and delicious smells emanated from the kitchen.

Something between a bar and restaurant, the menu offers up a number of delights to try – with starters such as mushroom tapenade and egg mayonnaise, and main dishes like onion soup and steak frites. We decided to share mushroom tapenade and Provençale olives to start – and what a joy these were. The tapenade was thick and garlicy, almost meaty in texture, perfect for spreading generously on thick slabs of bread. The olives were large and juicy, speared with cocktail sticks, they were gone in a matter of minutes.

Choosing our mains was difficult as everything sounded so good, but as always, we managed. My dining companion went with steak frites and a blue cheese dip, whilst I went all out and chose raclette, served with all the trimmings.

The steak frites were everything you could possibly want from this traditional dish. Served medium raw, the steak was tender and juicy, paired beautifully with the thin, crispy frites. The blue cheese sauce was rich and tangy – the perfect accompaniment. The raclette was the perfect winter warmer. It’s offered as a sharing plate or you can have it for one, and the dish comes complete with three types of charcuterie, potatoes and cornichons.

It arrived at the table alongside a table-top heater and grill – a most ingenious contraption. The thick slices of raclette fitted perfectly in the small square pan provided, and started to melt lovingly when placed over the grill. On the heated flat-top above, I roasted my meat and potatoes, then poured the molten cheese over my plate when it was finished. If there’s a better way to eat, I haven’t found it.

Stuffed to the gills but not wanting to give in, we shared a café gourmand. Another wonderful French tradition, it comprises a hot drink and two mini desserts – in our case, crème brûlée and a pot of dark chocolate mousse. A perfect end to a perfect meal, we left feeling happy and sated. And very French.

La Guingette is producing high-quality, humbling food in a Parisian fashion, something that is, in my opinion, very hard to achieve in any city that isn’t Paris. So if you’re wanting for something a little different and very special, don’t
pass them by.

La Guinguette

243 Cheltenham Road, Bristol

0117 329 0600

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