A few canelés from the morning’s bake were still on the counter at Little French soon after midday on Friday lunchtime.
It might be the only time that they last so long – with croissants, kouign-amanns and madeleines also all made fresh by head chef and co-owner Freddy Bird and his team every day.
Formerly head chef at the Lido in Clifton for more than a decade, Bird and his wife Nessa have opened this new Westbury Park restaurant just a few hundred yards from their own home.
The banquettes and exposed brickwork have survived from its former incarnation, Mesa, but other than that it has been all change here, with foliage hanging down from the light fittings and a few quiet hideaways overlooked by some bottles of wine that cost up to £222 (a 2011 Sassicaia Bolgheri from Tuscany).
“There’s nothing poncy here,” Nessa told one family who had ordered a whole charcoal-grilled chicken to share. “It’s just about enjoying your food and getting stuck in.”
Nessa is French and, unsurprisingly, that is the cuisine that dominates here from morning (when an espresso costs £2, or just £1.25 if you’re standing at the bar) until night, when the ‘old and rare’ section of the wine list may be explored – all sold at cost price plus £20.
With a few Groove Armada tracks on the stereo during lunchtime service, a couple of slices of homemade sourdough bread with a chewy crust, and cultured butter, was the perfect start; followed by another bar snack, a simply garnished single oyster for £2.50.
Starters range from £6.50 for radishes and cod’s roe, to £8.50 for crab on toast. My own starter was champagne risotto with summer truffle (£8.50), which had a light, mushroom-like taste.
I forgot to ask either of the Birds where they had sourced their truffle, but it is most definitely from an impeccable supplier, with Freddy using his contacts from across his career in Bristol and London to source the best ingredients for the first restaurant he has opened with his own money.
The kitchen at Little French is around a quarter of the size of the kitchen at the Lido, and is one that Freddy shares with Digby Littleboy, formerly head chef of the Thames Lido in Reading. It’s the classic dishes cooked very well indeed that stand this new restaurant apart.
Space is at such a premium here that a small shipping container has been lifted into the back garden which acts as the prep area.
If you want to feel properly French, a main dish of moules marinieres and frites (£15) should do the trick; with other options including plaice (£19.50) and slow-cooked beef short rib (£14.50).
Wonderfully tender wood-grilled leg of Pyrenean lamb (£19.50) was served with new season garlic purée and anchoïade – a classic Provençal dip made from anchovies, olive oil, white wine vinegar and garlic.
Nessa recommended a glass of the 2017 La Girouette pinot noir from Foncalieu in Languedoc to go with the lamb and it was a marvelous match and at £4.25 for a small glass great value as well.
Freddy has plans to sell ice cream outside the restaurant from the front of a three-wheeled bicycle. Chantilly was more than an adequate substitute for my four-year-old daughter for dessert, accompanying fantastically fresh and tangy strawberries; with another dessert of chocolate mousse almost completely liquified but also completely delicious.
Following the likes of Bravas, Bertha’s Pizza, Box-E and the original Birch, a Bristol husband and wife team have combined to open something very special.
The Birds’ Little French should be celebrated as an exquisite neighbourhood restaurant.
Little French, 2 North View, Westbury Park, Bristol BS6 7QB