There was a time when the Belle Epoque had its own belle époque as a restaurant. That was some 30 years ago. It really was the dog’s danglies of places to eat in North Cheshire. Of course, then, we thought of it as a place “not for the likes of us”, so we never went as a couple, although my partner did go once for a business dinner. I suspect they havn’t done too much to the place in the intervening years. The building dates from 1907 and was built as a home for a wealthy industrialist and the dining room appears to retain many of the original features. There’s an attempt to recreate the ambiance of an Edwardian room. It doesn’t really come off. That’s probably because the Belle Epoque is now more of a wedding venue than a restaurant. With at least four weddings a week, they only take restaurant bookings on “wedding free” evenings.
The menu certainly nods in the direction of France even if for some of the dishes this is in name only. And there’s also bog standard Brit affairs as in a rack of lamb which comes from a flock raised just round the corner at Tabley Hall. Perhaps oddly, saddle of lamb doesn’t come from there and is sourced from the Lune Valley in Lancashire.
Rabbit terrine was actually rabbit rillette. It was OK and might have been excellent if it wasn’t fridge cold. “Health and safety” means they have to keep at 3 degrees. Or so the chef says. A slice toasted sourdough and a little heap of well dressed lambs lettuce were decent accompaniments. Scallops were more than a tad overdone. Accompaniments here were quite well thought through – chorizo dice were crispy and nicely poky and porky; there was another dice of sweet carrot with peas adding to the sweetness, and a drizzle of hollandaise to bring it together.
Now, if we thought the starters had been a bit mediocre, then the mains took a dive. Seabass managed to be both overcooked and still retain a flabby skin. It was topped with what was described as a potato gallette but which was, in fact, a few thin slices of slightly underdone spud. There was an aubergine caviar which was fine. And some sunblush tomatoes which are always pleasant enough when we buy them at Sainsburys and were pleasant enough with the fish. A little beurre blanc dressed the plate.
My own main was not so much the dog’s danglies as the dog’s breakfast. At least it had a French name – poulet sauté au Belle Epoque. A signature dish presumably. Anyway, what I got was a generous serving of chicken thighs (although the lack of crispy skin was a let down), together with a scattering of Parmentier potatoes, mushrooms, Savoy cabbage, Roquefort cheese and a tomatoey sauce. The plate looked awful with items seemingly just chucked on there. Mercifully it tasted better than it looked.
Which is more than can be said for my dessert. I like Tarte Tatin. I like the crisp pastry. I like the caramelised apples. You know it’s going to be good even before you taste it. And vice versa. So, when you see undercooked pastry and pale slices of apple, you know you’re not in for a treat. And I wasn’t.
On the other side of the table, there was an issue with the creme brulee which meant half of it was left. Issue drawn to the attention of the server who offered an apology of sorts.
Time to get the bill.
I cannot recall a recent meal that was so consistently poor.