OK, here’s a question. How do you know that you’re visiting a French restaurant in the UK?
Menu uses French terms? Nope, lots of pretentious places do that. Place is owned by someone French? Nope, cuisine could be anything, particularly if, as with L’Endroit, it’s owned by a Belgian. Menu is packed full of classic French dishes – the sort everyone recognises as French? Well, certainly. But, it seems, the other way, is simply that the owner says it is. As in L’Endroit, whose website declares the “emphasis is on traditional French cuisine”. And then offers a menu almost utterly devoid of even nominally French dishes – from the black pudding starter, through the Scottish venison stew and finishing with the selection of English farmhouse cheese.
That is not to say that these and the other menu offerings do not sound quite good in their own right. I would happily eat such a meal but not necessarily when I’ve driven 20 miles to eat at a French restaurant. The website also makes mention that game is a speciality in season and, indeed, it is – pigeon on the starters; pheasant, mallard and venison on the mains; roast partridge, teal or woodcock on the night’s specials.
It’s a pleasant and quite spacious room in the town centre (although damn cold if your table is near the door which opens directly from the street). I’m sure there’s little competition at the level in the immediate vicinity and tables filled up quickly with mostly regulars, who were warmly welcomed by the staff.
They get full marks for bringing a bottle of chilled tap water and bread as soon as we sat down – but they immediately lose points for the bread being bog-standard supermarket sliced wholemeal. It was a cold night and I quite fancied soup as a starter – but, whilst L’Endroit might be seasonal with its game, asparagus was just wrong. I went with a slice of goats cheese roasted with their own honey (jars available for purchase). Not a great success, unfortunately. The honey had burned and become hard – it stuck to the plate and to my teeth. It could still have worked if the cheese had had some salty goaty punch to balance the sweetness but it didn’t. The salad garnish was the best bit. My partner had gone for “Shetland mussels with a chive cream” – or moules a la crème had they been trying to push the French bit. Nice plump mussels with a flavoursome creamy broth – it only needed some decent bread to mop up but, of course, that was not to be had.
For mains, slices of lamb leg were OK but underwhelming. They came with haricot beans which we were prepared to believe had been soaked and cooked rather than a tin opened. And a very nice dish of dauphinoise potato. And a decent gravy. I’d ordered, from the specials, the only very distinctly French dish available – a cassoulet which included home made sausages, both and pork and pheasant. This was a comforting and generous dish for a winter evening – a plateful placed in front of me and a pan of “seconds” placed alongside.
We passed on desserts, even though they were generally French, but did have decent coffee.
It was a pleasant enough evening and, I suspect if we lived in the town we’d probably become regulars. As it is, we don’t and we won’t. L’Endroit features in the 2011 Good Food Guide with a score of 3. Frankly that is just fanciful overrating, when compared with other Cheshire and Greater Manchester restaurants.