Chez Elles Bistroquet, 45 Brick Lane E1 6PU
I could not imagine finding Chez Elles amid the chaos of Brick Lane’s neon-flashing signs, but just like that tiny street in Paris where you turn the corner and suddenly see the full magnificent Frenchness of the Eiffel Tower, there is Chez Elles, looking twinkly, sassy and defiantly French.
I already love it and I haven’t stepped in. I think I was unconsciously steeling myself for the French service, but lo – what is this? Smiles? Greetings in French? I checked the door sign again. Yup – definitely French.
My dining partner is waiting in the background, looking a little like a Hopper portrait, calm and poised amidst the soothing lighting and draped backdrop.
We shared a planche campagnarde (I’ll roughly translate that as a board of heavenly French things) which included duck rillettes, pork terrine, Bayonne ham and salami. Just divine. Not technically difficult to prepare but good value, using quality ingredients that sang. The duck rillettes was so creamy in its own fatty goodness my senses were engulfed and I could barely understand what my companion was saying.
Mains were an equal delight. My duck canard (yes I know, January, good intentions etc) was richly sublime, its final resting place being pungent red cabbage, its neighbour a creamily comforting gratin dauphinois. This is the kind of dish Delia would state ‘I wouldn’t have this every day, but ….’. Superb.
My partner had moules au Roquefort et frites maison (that mussels and chips to you). Roquefort was an interesting pairing with the subtle taste of mussels, but it was not overwhelming and proved a winning combination. I wasn’t convinced the fries were actually triple-cooked as billed, not providing the usual perfect roast potato crunch, but they were fine.
At this point I could feel rivulets of fat travelling with alarming alacrity to all the areas that are meant to be recovering rather than re-stocking after Christmas, so I forewent my dessert but shamefully did try a few spoonfuls of my guest’s: Poire pochée, gratin aux amandes et glace caramel. This was very good indeed, a pool of comforting custard, garnished with toasted almonds surrounded an island of poached pear, sheltering a perfect globe of caramel ice-cream. A memorable dessert and, I imagine, a menu highlight.
If you’re still reading this and you haven’t donned a beret and braved the cold then I have failed in my job.
Two ate two courses plus wine, water and service for just over £70.