After the successfully enjoyable Van Gogh expedition, it seems that National Rusters all seem to want to plan trips. Henry Elkins called me the other day about a trip to the World War battlefields of Flanders in early May so could I mark his restaurant card? He said in previous trips he found a local restaurant at Armentieres which was exceptional but the place was now closed. I congratulated him on discovering what is known as a restaurant du quartier (neighbourhood restaurant) as every local has a favourite and if you are recommended, or come across one, then you can eat well at a good price going native. Well do I remember looking into the soulful eyes of Didier over the candles of his favourite rive gauche brasserie and our desert course eaten chez lui!!!
I have been visiting Brighton a lot in search of such a restaurant and yesterday Nancy Bright-Thompson and I ate at La Fourchette in Second Avenue, Hove. My readers will know my view that, whilst good food is integral to the restaurant experience, there are other factors which influence diners which us reviewers do not always take on board. For example the other day I was at the Wolseley for breakfast, always reliable and fun, but it took 3 attempts to find my coat causing me a 5 minute wait that I could ill afford.
I am also very big on greeting. At la Fourchette, a brasserie, I was directed to a table for two sandwiched between two others. The compressed table for two, often found in the fashionable Italian trattoria, is one of my bête noires and I was offered no alternative by Le Patron who had a bossy manner. Next up there were two ladies on the adjoining table, one of whom had a mobile ring like an Iron Maiden concert which startled me. A fish soup full of tomato with two little croutons and rouille outside the soup confirmed my bad first impressions. If Le Patron walked 250 yards to Waitrose he could buy one richer in stock. A duck breast for mains reinforced some faith in their mainstream French cuisine and we enjoyed a french cheese board .
I then understood why we were consigned to the minuscule tables when an office party of about 24 arrived. They were incredibly noisy. Apparently they were an recruitment company who had a very good week and were celebrating hard, demob happy on the day before bank holidays. Unable to hear Nancy as they were now all around us like a swarm of noisy bees we moved to another part of the restaurant where an over-familiar woman the worse for wear in every sense knocked into Nancy twice and was overfamiliar in her apologies. Nancy picked up the bill but I guess it would be around £100 for two.
My impression that the cooking was hit or miss was worsened by an ambience inimical to conversation and relaxed dining. So far, for a neighbourhood restaurant, I have found none better than Sams in Kemptown but they do not have one of the features required, namely a fixed price menu.