French eats: La Guinguette

by Jess Carter

14 March 2019

La Guinguette if you thought all French food was of the fancy ilk, Jessica Carter knows somewhere you should visit

On my first visit to the Eiffel Tower, I wasn’t the only one up there on the brink of weeping. But while my fellow tourists were holding back tears of joy, mid-marriage-proposals, my watering eyes were induced by the financial blow of the coffee bill I’d been presented with on my walk over, which saw my student budget for the day in tatters. (And I only even ordered that espresso so I could use the loo.)

Three people who are far too au fait with the City of Lights to be on the receiving end of such surprises are Parisian hospitality pros Roxane and Jérôme Frauche, and Ophélie Rupp. So when it came to opening the restaurant they’d wanted for so long, they planned to look beyond pricey Paris. Luckily, having family in Bristol this city was very much on their radar, and it didn’t take many visits for them to become fans of our patch. In 2017 these guys upped sticks and moved across the Channel on the hunt for the perfect bistro spot.

Finally, they came across the former Parlour on the corner of Cheltenham Road and Zetland Road and snapped it right up, opening the doors of La Guingette in September last year. The cosy space has a subtly French mise-en-scene; tiny lights are strung up across the ceiling, blackboards list specials and wines, and vintage props are peppered about the space – think retro posters, decades-old glass soda syphon bottles and battered scales. Those, we find out, came from Ophélie’s grandma, a former restaurateur who stored all her place’s brica- brac in her attic when she retired.

The wine list is varied without being of biblical length or inducing mild panic, and most varieties are available in three sizes of glass, as well as by the bottle.

The food menu is similarly digestible in size, with a couple of hors d’oeuvres, followed by starters, a sharing board each of meat and cheese, and main courses. An adaptable collection of plates, then, which’ll do as well for nibbles as for sharing dishes and three-course meals. Where it really wins, though, is in the cheese and carb stakes. This is rustic, homely French food – the stuff you’d eat at the family table or in casual pub-style joints – so expect lots of bread and plenty of France’s most famous dairy-based product.

The mushroom tapenade (£4) is great value: a Kilner jar of the rich, dark mixture comes on a board with loads of crisp bread slices to heap it onto. People regularly come in solely for the baked Camembert (£6.80), we’re told, which is just the right size for two to share – again accompanied by plenty of carb – while the tuna and tarragon rillettes (£5.30) tastes fresh and light with a soft, aromatic herbiness, teamed with a creamy chive-flecked sauce. We slather it onto the warm, crusty lengths of baguette. (Yes, more bread – what of it?)

Order the raclette (£14.50 per person) and a grill will soon appear at the table with a small pan for you to employ in the exercise of turning solid cheese into bubbling unctuousness. We upturn those pans over our plates, draping warm baby potatoes and charcuterie in cheesy blankets. Every French family has one of those grills, Roxane tells us, and very reasonably wastes no time in whipping it out as soon as the weather turns cold.

The steak frites (£13.50) involves a crimson-centred, deeply grained cut of beef, and a very healthy helping of French fries. Choose to have it with the wellbalanced blue cheese sauce or garlic butter.

A café gourmand (£7) rounds off a fun dinner by way of a mini chocolate mousse, vanilla-laced crème brûlée and espresso – all arriving set out on a tiny plastic tray.

We couldn’t help but fall for this place and its fuss-free, straight-up food. There are no fancy frills, just a warm atmosphere, great wines, and grub to make you happy. The team is as friendly as the prices (wines start at £3.20 for a small glass), and four-legged pals are as welcome as anyone. If I were cleverer (or less honest), I may have just kept all that to myself.