When it comes to choosing a dinner location, I am usually guilty of opting for French cuisine over anything else. I’ve been called unoriginal in this regard but I never regret my decision when I’m happily sat with my steak frites or moules marinière. When it came to selecting an eatery for my partner’s birthday, I knew it had to be special and silently rejoiced when I glanced at my “must visit list”. Not only was the top choice French-inspired, but a highly rated, chic one at that.
Tucked away in the backstreets of Hackney Borough, Bistrotheque has become somewhat of an East London establishment since it opened its doors over a decade ago. I remember the reviews that were published around its launch date and how it had been painted as some sort of dining speak easy, whose location was well known but never really spoken about. Bistrotheque has certainly maintained its air of mystery over the years however, as we walked back up and down Wadeson street two or three times before realising where it was. With no sign on the outside, you do not know you have arrived until you are up several flights of stairs in a warehouse-type building, facing an impeccably long cocktail bar and surrounded by well presented staff.
The restaurant is modestly decorated, dimly lit and could be either in Paris or Brooklyn, depending on your mood that evening. We were sat at our table, and within minutes I was presented with a basket of freshly grilled gluten free bread, thanks to Opentable who provide an “extra information” box when booking any restaurant through their website.
While I no longer not sit down and peruse restaurant menus without any sort of direction from a waiter on what can and cannot be gluten free, I thought I would take my chances and select things I would absolutely love to try just for the hell of it. This obviously came with the great risk that I would then be told by waiting staff I could not in fact have my dream meal and instead some grilled fish or salad. Amazingly for me, my prayers were answered and the signature twice baked soufflé with broad beans and black truffle just happened to be gluten free, with a corn flour base instead of that of the wheat variety. This scored immediate points for Bistrotheque who within minutes had already proven that not every establishment opts for the more well known version.
The soufflé arrived perfectly cooked, rich and moreish inside its own dainty Le Creuset dish, pairing perfectly with an extra chilled glass of Picpoul de Pinet: my favourite white wine thanks to my mother’s teachings.
For a main course I selected the beef rump heart with wild mushrooms and smoked butter, which came cooked a perfect pink and beautifully arranged like some sort of meat fan. My only regret was its size, which after an entire cheese soufflé was slightly daunting. A fresh gem salad eased the struggle slightly and reminded me that my meal was not entirely carnivorous. The smoked butter added a delicious twist to a traditional steak, and gave the array of dainty mushrooms extra flavour and moisture.
Because declining dessert simply is not an option when anyone is celebrating, I shared a pannacotta with the birthday boy which came surrounded by fresh strawberries, pistachios and light green leaves. I had not been short of options however, and could have also indulged in a crème brulee or an apple sorbet with East London Liquor Company vodka.
We tottered out to our Uber well fed, watered and exceptionally impressed by the staff and kitchen who exhibited a high standard of knowledge of allergies and dietary requirements. If anything I was made to feel like a regular diner, with no follow up questions asked (the ole’ “is it an allergy or a preference?” chestnut fantastically was avoided). I already cannot wait to return to Bistrotheque for brunch which on the weekends showcases dishes likes Eggs Benedict and Avotoast as well as some of the restaurant’s own classics from it’s A La Carte Menu including my trusty soufflé – you would be crazy to miss it!