Big flavours and bold cooking invigorate traditional Gallic dishes at this neo-bistro in Westbury Park
Mid-August and it’s mollusc madness out there. At 6am on a rainy Wednesday morning, my small terraced garden patch is alive, writhing with masses of slippery slugs and snails, all feeding on, and mating in, my verdant herb borders. Where do they get off?
Despite all efforts to create a snail-free zone – mainly through early-morning repatriation to the neighbours’ gardens, from where, presumably, they were slung the night before – they are having a riot. And it’s not weeds they’re subsisting on, I might point out; the dill patch is now officially bare.
I’ll have my revenge, I decide later that night at Westbury Park’s newest resident, Little French, ordering the parsley soup and snails with a grin (£7).
This smart little restaurant opened in July and was warmly welcomed by locals who know the owner – ex-Lido chef Freddy Bird – as a fellow Westbury resident and TV personality. Here, he’s serving up relaxed regional French fodder – traditional dishes done up with a good dollop of Freddy flair. Think highest-quality produce, coal-fire cooking and a few British flavours thrown in.
Little French is smart and stylish with a relaxed vibe. Exposed brick creates a cool backdrop to contemporary hanging pendant lighting, and dark teal panelling runs along the copper-topped bar, while more teal and burnt-orange banquettes line one wall of this lean space. The wooden tables are close – not close enough so you’re banging elbows, but close enough for you to share dinner-table banter with your neighbours (and, better, snoop on their food).
So, back to my revenge mission, which tastes sweet from the very first sup. Richer and heavier than I imagined, the moss-green parsley broth is populated with bobbing brown shapes of intrigue. Some are soft girolles and some are snails, tender to the bite with smacks of fresh, earthy flavour. It may be a French dish in theory, but this is definitely the taste of my English garden.
From the sea comes tender squid (£5.50), perfectly paired with a glass of fresh and cool Languedoc Blanc (which will only set you back a fiver), whose citrus flavours launder the palette after every bite of the salty, buttery, garlicky ribbons. Freddy’s always been a dab hand at seafood and although this dish isn’t perhaps the prettiest to look at, it’s cooked to a tee with winning flavour.
It’s difficult to turn down the clams with garlic and wild black pepper, the roast queen scallops with Sauternes butter and chives, and the flowering baby courgette with goat’s curd, all equally divine, our neighbours assure us. They are locals, and they’ll be back for more soon, they insist.
Across the table, J tucks into piles of light and sweet Devon crab (£8.50), nicely teamed with steaming Jersey Royals, their salty, golden skins giving just enough bite to the delicate meat which sits in a lettuce leaf cup.
After considering the sharing mains – guinea fowl, wood-grilled chateaubriand or whole roast brill – then deciding against it (things could get competitive), we order rabbit with mustard sauce (£15.50) and the Pyrenean lamb (£20.50).
The former is a huge leg, golden on the outside with soft white meat inside. It’s so incredibly moist, easy to pull away from the bone with just the tip of your fork. I dunk the juicy hunks in the moat of creamy mustard sauce that flows around the bed of green beans. The whole dish is rich with tarragon, which lifts the sauce with its bittersweet flavour.
The pink, butter-soft lamb comes with a generous glob of the most moreish anchoïade to punch up each bite with salty umaminess.
Plates wiped clean with frites (£3), we order pudding. It’s a squeeze after such hearty mains, but the mousse au chocolat (£5.50) is worth the stretch. The dark and stormy dessert with the richest of cocoa flavours isn’t overly sweet, and perfectly rings in the end of a momentous meal.
With a menu that celebrates the art of the butcher (we haven’t even mentioned the milk-fed lamb kidneys yet), the delicate hands of the fishmonger, glorious Gallic flavours and fine British produce, Little French truly is a special destination. It’s open every day, morning ’til night, and is somewhere you can add a little belle to your vie, revenge mission or not.