Have you ever ventured into something with a pre-conceived idea of what you were doing, or what to expect, only to be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised? One of those things that always catches me unawares is paint colours. I once painted a whole house in a colour I (we) didn’t quite expect – and then had to live with it for the next six years… Which is why sample pots are always a good idea.
But wouldn’t it be great if restaurants and cafes also did sample pots?
Such was the experience recently at the British Bistro, located on the outskirts of the Currambine Shopping Centre. I first spotted the bistro while walking into Weight Watchers for my regular weight check. It was at that moment I just knew I had to look for an opportunity to try it out.
While reading up on the bistro online, I noticed that they offer a special Sunday menu which focuses on the classic British meals – especially roasts. The rest of the regular menu appeared to be somewhere between pub meals and fine dining – and the menu suggested that the pricing also fell somewhere in between the two as well.
The decision was made; if there is a special menu on offer which promises meals that ooze with authenticity (probably not the best metaphor), then count me in.
I arrived early Sunday evening to find only one other table occupied. There is a large dining area inside that screams ‘posh’, and reinforces the fine dining angle, rather than bistro. I first noticed a choice of booths, open tables, cafe style bentwood chairs, perimeter bench seating, and upholstered dining armchairs.
There is also a decent sized external seating area that would be lovely to use when the weather permits. No gimmicks are used in the decor, and a simple string of LED lights tastefully located around the perimeter walls and waitress station suggest that Christmas is approaching. I arrived at the centrally located waiters and drinks station and read a sign telling me to ‘please wait to be welcomed’. Just by that one sign reading a little different to normal I knew I was going to be in for something different that night.
My initial taste of bistro hospitality was a mixed experience. I was welcomed politely by a waitress and encouraged to take a seat anywhere. As I took a seat in one of the oh-so-comfy armchairs at a table located to take in the sunset the waitress politely rolled down a distant window shade to reduce the glare from the setting sun.
I was handed a menu and advised that the order would be taken at the table. There was no discussion of the Sunday menu, the specials menu, or even the regular menu which was still in play. This really had become a large menu! A glass of water would have been appreciated while taking in the menu, but nothing was supplied and a drinks order was not taken or discussed until the main order was taken.
Which was almost immediately after being handed the menus. I barely had time to read all the menu choices! Fortunately I had scanned the menu online ahead of my visit and was confident that I would be ordering the beef roast meal and a bread and butter pudding for afters.
While waiting, and as the night continued, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one rushed into making a selection – however to be fair I could have said that I wasn’t ready, but I didn’t feel I had that luxury. It was all rather rushed – but for what reason? Only for the young staff to go back to talking to their colleagues behind the central station it seemed.
Soon later my roast beef meal arrived disguised as a mountain of food. To say the least, this was a hearty serving. A quick glance at the plate revealed cauliflower topped with Bechmel sauce baked in a ramekin, steamed broccoli, crispy roast potatoes, chunky mash potato, strips of carrot, Yorkshire pudding holding the gravy, and the carved roast beef. A horse radish cream was placed in its own bowl to the side. I was not expecting this much food. A pleasant surprise. Had my Beloved been with me I could have easily passed over most of my vegetables and created two meals and still be satisfied with the portion sizes.
This was not a dish prettied up by tricky plating techniques; this was your grandmothers Sunday roast. The beef itself was the hero here – full of colour, texture and flavour. This was better than I expected. The roast spuds were seriously cispy – almost as if they had been battered and deep fried, and the mash potato was made the way I prefer, firm and chunky.
The broccoli was as good as you can cook steamed broccoli, and drained well. The Yorkshire pudding was fluffy and golden; not a doughy dumpling like my grandmother used to make, but more like a heavy chioux pastry ring. And finally, the bechmel over the cauliflower was lovely but on the bland side as you can imagine. This was not a mod at sauce, and I felt it was begging for something on top, like perhaps sautéed bacon and/or cheese melted on top – just to breathe some life into it. A little bit of additional saltiness like this may have been all the dish needed to slightly sharpen the flavours.
However, the meal ate superbly. I was puzzled why you would serve both mash and roast spuds, but why not….
One of the great things about a roast like this is being able to collect all the small bits of meat and veg towards the end and mixing it with gravy to hold it together as you load your fork.
This was also a heavy meal, but I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting was the lack of oil in each element. Another pleasant surprise.
The bread and butter pudding was pleasant, but din’t wow me like the main course did. Again, there was a noticeable lack of oil in the pudding, which in this case a dollop of butter, or some creaminess from additional custard while baking, I feel would have helped the taste. The pudding itself was loaded with sultanas and the bread tasted fresh, not stale like I imagined it would be. Served up with store bought ice cream, it was nonetheless a delightful dish.
Throughout the meal the waitresses checked in with me to make sure everything was okay; even offering me a newspaper to read at one stage. I soon noticed a pattern whereby the waitresses would visit me each time I took a pause from eating to either reply to a text, or continued tapping out my thoughts on the meal. However the wait service was not intrusive and a nice change from recent experiences at other locations where I have been forgotten about the moment I sat down.
Just as a side comment, I also added a coffee with the dessert. Considering that the Brits aren’t traditionally renowned for their coffee, I debated whether I should have ordered a pot of brewed tea instead. But I needn’t have worried – the coffee was just ‘wow’! It absolutely knocked my socks off!! An excellent coffee – a pleasant surprise again – and what a way to finish the meal!
All up, a quality and authentic home-style Sunday roast meal and bread and butter pudding that would give your grandmother a run for her money. A little pricey perhaps, but the service, food quality and atmosphere more than made up for that in a way that pleasantly challenged my pre-conceived ideas about the British Bistro.