One of Belfast's favourite French chefs, Jean-Luc Lewis, is back. I mourned for him deeply when the fabulous Cafe Le Petit Ormeau closed down five years ago. This modest little cafe with its order-then-pay-at-the-till discomforts had a place in my heart as it produced some of the best and most authentic French bistro dishes any Francophile could wish for. There were pates de campagne with proper baguettes and cornichons, fabulously rich cassoulets and croque monsieur made the old way with creme fraiche and gruyere.
Jean-Luc Lewis could conjure up a pukka French dish using local ingredients but he also sourced the proper stuff from France on occasion too. And that's what he's doing now once again in a new District Cafe on the Saintfield Road.
I love District at the best of times. Ever since the talented Richard Stitt set up the first one in Stranmillis, Districts have popped up around south Belfast and proven themselves as reliable, happy places where the coffee is strong and the food, depending on which end of the chill cabinet you're looking at, is either super healthy quinoa or dirty killer sausage rolls.
But with our man in place, the Districts look like they have created their own category, neither café nor bistro, nor fine diner but a little of all three. Let's call it grande-bouffe-de-la-rue for now. Last week District's team including sous-chef Paddy Lynett started doing home dinner kits which you can order in the Districts or from their website (collection from the Saintfield Road District only).
At £35 per box you might baulk but once you've done all the preparing, opened a bottle of Gamay (I recommend the Loron Gamay Noir from Direct Wine Shipments for these boxes - inexpensive and excellent) and laid the stuff out on the table you'll wonder how they can do this for £17.50 per head.
There is a hefty tartiflette made with generous dollops of Reblochon, classy little waxy potatoes and quality lardons, hotdogs using massive Toulouse sausages with all their chunky, coarse porkiness, sticky pork ribs, chicken wings with classic wing sauce and Roquefort blue cheese dip (you can keep your Stilton in Cairnryan, thanks very much), chicken yakitori skewers with wasabi sesame seeds, pork belly bites with garlic honey, Mojama sliced air dried tuna which comes with Broighter Gold oil, rocket and sourdough and there's even a crab salad to go on the toasted bread which is also supplied.
The tartiflette will transport you to the Alps where this is the skiers' favourite. Hugely calorific and all the tastier for it. This deep and nourishing fondant will keep you going all day long. The crab spread is a magnificent thing where the deeper flavours of the brown meat balance the sweeter, flakier white meat. The unexpected appearance of some Asian and American players - the wings and the skewers are welcome additions adding sparkle to a very joyful meal. We found equal satisfaction in the vegetarian box.
This featured onion and gruyere tarts, crottin de chevre (goat's cheese) with red onion chutney on sourdough, falafel with flatbread and spicy dill mayo, carrot, seed salad and red onion, tapenades, red pepper hummus, tomato ciabatta, halloumi fritters and two sizable mushroom tartiflettes. There was more but I'm running out of space.
Preparations are very easy and instructions are simple. The veggie box takes only 10 minutes in a 180 oven. You just put everything onto a baking paper lined tray. Same goes for the meaty box only it needs 15 minutes. Start with the pork belly as it needs 25 minutes.
We loved this one so much we are ordering another couple next week.