Restaurant review: Bistro Gautier, Harpenden
PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:52 21 March 2019
Brian Arnopp Images
Carrying on their father’s remarkable legacy, a brother and sister are providing a taste of authentic France in Harpenden
If part of the secret of success is creating a strong identity, Bistro Gautier at the Amble Inn on the outskirts of Harpenden is off to a tasty start. ‘Imagine’, says the first line of the website, ‘stumbling across a classic family-run bistro in a French village.’
The dictionary definition of bistro is ‘a small, inexpensive restaurant’, but the term has come to mean more. As Wikipedia notes, ‘in its original Parisian incarnation, (it is) a small restaurant, serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting with alcohol’, adding that bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve, with French home-style cooking, and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet typical.
Celebrating its third anniversary next month, Bistro Gautier scores in most of the categories. Not surprising, since it was the brainchild and is the legacy of long-time professional chef Mark Gautier, who had an illustrious career but died in 2016 at the age of 53 just after the bistro opened. The son of a chef, he worked in France and the UK in a range of businesses from small brasseries to Michelin-starred restaurants, building up a CV featuring the likes of the Savoy in London, the former Glen Eagle Hotel in Harpenden and Welwyn’s Auberge du Lac among many others.
The Amble Inn and before that the Dolphin, were both pubs but without proper restaurants. Bistro Gautier at the Amble Inn is run by Mark’s son Guy as head chef and daughter Liana, who handles front-of-house. A photograph of them with their father hangs on the wall in tribute, Liana says, to the man who made it possible.
Part of the building is still a pub – with real ales among other goodies – and is intended to stay so but the main attraction for foodies is the bistro, its food and atmosphere. Liana describes it as ‘no fuss, no frills, just a small, but perfectly balanced menu of time-honoured dishes.’
The starters on our visit lived up to the claim of authenticity, with the (very) hot and spicy mushroom and garlic soup du jour with baguette (£5.75, below right) a perfect antidote to a winter’s evening. Oeufs en meurette (£7.50), traditionally soft-poached egg in red wine sauce with shallot and leeks but enlivened in this version by the addition of chicken livers, crispy bacon and fresh baguette, was equally comforting and highly praised by my fellow reviewer.
Creativity in the kitchen was amply demonstrated by one of the specials of the day, pork tenderloin (£16.95). Endorsed with enthusiasm across the table, it was served with aligot croquette, pac choi with lemon, capers and shallots, pickled celeriac and caramelised walnuts and finished with a rich calvados and pork jus. My poisson du jour turned out to be sea bass (£15.95, below), a whole fish baked with lemon, stuffed with fresh herbs and served with sautéed new potatoes or (my choice) French fries and green beans. It was exactly as expected and very good.
A shared pudding of crème de noix de coco (£6.50, above) with a roasted pineapple purée and passionfruit sauce set the seal on a satisfying meal by being mouthwatering and attractive to look at, a cool treat to balance the savoury forerunners.
Other ways to sample the Bistro Gautier experience include a dine at home service and a weekday lunchtime prix fixe menu at £11.95 for two courses and £13.95 for three courses. There are cheesy Tuesdays featuring a raclette dinner with wine at £35 for two and steak Wednesdays from £30 for two, plus weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and a weekday version Tuesday to Friday. Another feature is special events for special occasions, including Mother’s Day this month, featuring a pop-up flower shop at the restaurant the day before.
Dinner for two was £78.81 including two glasses of wine and a 12.5 per cent service charge. This is an independent review by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
182 Station Rd, Harpenden AL5 4UL. 01582 762242
3 of a kind
Richard recommends three more French-inspired Herts restaurants
One of a chain, with Herts branches in Bishop’s Stortford, Harpenden and Welwyn GC and consistently recommended. Starters include prawn gratinée, with cassoulet de Toulouse a popular main and praline crêpe among puds.
3 High Street, St Albans AL3 4ED. 01727 858587
Tucked away venue overlooking the river Lea established in 2003. Starters include crabe vinaigrette aux herbes, mains feature canard aux vin rouge, and fumee pomme et mure boudin a favoured dessert.
3 Mill Walk, Wheathampstead AL4 8DT. 07419 833324
Owned and run by Aude and Laurent Brydniak since 2008, a traditional English pub and former coaching inn dating from the 1600s noted for French-oriented set menus plus popular five-course tasting menu.
Brickwall Close, Ayot Green AL6 9AA. 01707 324241