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Café Pistou (CLOSED)

Restaurants, French Clerkenwell

Time Out says

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This French restaurant in Exmouth Market specialises in cooking from Provence.

Please note, Cafe Pistou is now closed. Time Out Food & Drink Editors, January 2017.

Pistou is the Provençal version of pesto, made without pine nuts. The café of that name lies at the gateway to Exmouth Market, where a Strada once stood.

Happily, all traces of the mass-market chain are now gone. Walls have been whitewashed, the wood is warm, and dinky half-moons protrude along the length of a central counter, encouraging patrons to dine à deux on bar stools. Bare bulbs dangling in designer cages are set to make-me-look-like-a-supermodel low.

In short, it is nothing like Provence, where the scenery is stunning, but the restaurants are not. They’re also surprisingly unlikely to do genuine Provençal cooking, which should be light and summery, with lots of veg, seafood and lamb. Most restaurants in the region follow the heavier Lyonnaise style, serving foie gras and entrecôte, because that’s what sells.

So, paradoxically, this café is nothing like a typical Provençal bistro – because there are plenty of genuine Provençal dishes here. And much of it is very good.

Highlights of our meal included just-baked fougasse (a flat, round loaf) and a dish of baked tomatoes stuffed with melted goat’s cheese and dabs of the eponymous pistou. The chunky house ratatouille was excellent, as was a dish of Camargue red rice, made with good quality olive oil.

But it wasn’t all a bed of roses. ‘Innovative’, not strictly Provençal dishes were flawed: barbajuan (cheese-stuffed dumplings from Monaco) came overcooked, an otherwise lovely pissaladière (onion tart) was overwhelmed by a ‘modern’ topping of chorizo, ‘pommes dauphinoise’ was merely a cheesy gratin, with scant garlic or cream.

The message from our meal is clear: stick to the classics and you can have a jolly nice time. Dishes are keenly priced; more than half of the wines on the all-French list are under £30, and service could not be more charming. All they need to do now is convert an outside area into a pétanque pitch.

By: Tania Ballantine



Address: 8-10 Exmouth Market
Transport: Tube/rail: Farringdon
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