Restaurant review: We take a bite out of French Village
343 Lisburn Road, Belfast Tel: 028 9066 4333
Belfast is turning French. There are so many French Villages across the city now that we might as well join them all up and call ourselves Bordeaux.
Ashley French, of the family who created French Village 20 years ago as a bakery, says the new Lisburn Road operation of the same name is a patisserie and brasserie.
French Village are still well known as a catering firm and supplier of baked goods to various outlets.
Their first restaurant was and remains the other French Village in Botanic Avenue. (The French Village sausage roll served on HMS Caroline where they run the onboard cafe, featured in the recent top three "Sassidge Rolls-off").
This year the company embarked on an expansion plan and opened new restaurants Baker Street and now French Village on the Lisburn Road.
It's a Napoleonic empire!
The Lisburn Road is a tough strip. There's as much quality as there is volume in terms of bistros, cafes and restaurants.
Possibly the most expensive commercial rents in the city mean that anyone who sets up shop here has thought long and hard before committing.
The new French Village patisserie and brasserie is exactly what it says on the door.
There are pukka-looking pastries beckoning to you from a brightly lit glass chill cabinet as soon as you come in through the doors and then there's loads of French-style, "kinda" Edwardian, belle-epoque style interior with booths and banquettes. It's very compelling.
And there's the food. Five of us queued a while (this is a French Village fact of life) for a table, but as soon as we sat down, servers were by our side offering sustenance and menus.
And here's where the French Village's secret weapon is revealed: Damien Tumilty, one of the city's best chefs, who until now ran the restaurant in Cafe Vaudeville, the most under rated eating house in Belfast. Tumilty keeps a low profile, leaving his food to do the talking. And what a lot he has to say!
If the brief is to create a proper French brasserie, Monsieur Tumilty has cracked it.
I haven't been there for dinner, which I am told is the talk of BT9, but if lunch is anything to go by, then book me a table after sundown, quick.
Lunch can be anything you want: soupe du jour, burger, charcuteries, croque madame and even fish curry are on the menu.
Club sandwiches, frites and salads complete the picture and the ice cold Heverlee on tap and Peroni, decent wine list and general olde worlde atmosphere make for an incredibly pleasant autumn afternoon.
The charcuterie board was populated with all the items I wanted, but rarely see: the creamy, coarse duck rillettes which you spread as thickly as the toast can withstand before cracking, the pot of celeriac remoulade, the very essence of a real charcuterie's salad selection, and the bresaola, lomo and hams, are all quality and authentic, if not exactly French.
But I love eating this way at weekends, picking away at bits and pieces.
Others around the table are having burger (judged by the experts as up there alongside Hadski's), pappardelle pasta with slow cooked shin of beef Bolognese and pecorino with pappardelle (on a par with Tony O'Neill's duck ragu) and the croquet-madame, a cheese and ham toastie with an egg on top (as good as the one in Cafe de la Paix, La Rochelle).
The savouries soon make way for those pastries, which have lurked prominently in our minds since coming in.
They are all good, although the choux pastry of the Paris Brest is chewy. The crème within is otherwise flawless. And the coffee is excellent.
French Village on the Lisburn Road is a go-to place for shoppers, business folk and the neighbourhood. It's big enough that you won't be queueing for very long, if at all.
The service is charming, and clearly understands the need to keep things moving at a pace, without making you feel rushed. This is good for lunchers who are keeping an eye on the clock.
Now we've done lunch, it's time for an evening reservation - to see if those rumours are true.
Croque madame £8.00
Ham and cheese baguette £6.00
French fries x 2 £7.00
Paris Brest £3.25
Toffee apple donut £2.50
Pear frangipane tart £3.80
Coffee x 3 £5.80
Bottle Peroni £3.75
Half Heverlee £2.75
Glass Sauv Blanc £4.95
Iced tea x 2 £5.00