Lunch review: No photos please… at Bouchon Bistrot

Sarah Cook savours Hexham’s acclaimed Bouchon Bistrot, and regrets her lack of photographic record

People assume it’s all glamour, this restaurant critic lark, an Elysian Fields of five-star lunches attended by hot and cold running maitre d’s. And it is indeed pleasant, especially when it involves a carefree lunch in the sun at one of the finest French restaurants you will find anywhere.

What you may not consider, however, is the difficulty inherent in the regular reviewer dining incognito. I generally get away with it with the aid of a blonde wig, sunglasses and a bad German accent. However, incognito or not, I have to take decent photos without drawing attention. My technique is to waft a mobile phone over my plate with the nonchalant air of a young social media influencer (which I am not), and admittedly, this can have mixed results.

Thus, enjoying a first-class lunch at Bouchon Bistrot, I managed to place my fat thumb over the lens in one picture, and forget entirely to take a photo of pudding. So, detailed photographic evidence somewhat lacking, you’re just going to have to take my word for the excellence of the experience.

A dozen years ago now, a TV programme called the F-Word, which Gordon Ramsay fronted, said this was the best French restaurant in the north. But I disagree – I think it is among the best in the country.

It is a cliché to describe this as a corner of France in Northumberland, but I have to do so because that is what it is. Indeed, relaxing on the sun-drenched terrace with views towards the Sele school and surrounding trees, a glass of fizz and a delicious entrée of asparagus, tenderstems, poached egg and wholegrain mustard, I felt myself rather French.

The owner, Gregory Bureau, has built Bouchon’s reputation on the traditional dishes he grew up with at his parents’ restaurant in Tours, France. He is also the consummate front of house man – offering considered recommendations based on a lifetime’s expertise and what he knows to be his regulars’ preferences. Thus, the red wines he recommended proved to be consummate soulmates for our main courses. We savoured them with the finest steak frites and caramelised onions you will taste this side of Paris, and a richly succulent lamb navarin with ambrosial garlic pommes purée and exceptional cauliflower cheese.

Heaven then arrived in the form of a sticky cannelé Bordelais with praline and hazelnut ice cream and salted caramel, and a sublime crème brûlée, its burnished sugar lid giving way with a satisfying snap to a seraphic indulgence of creamy vanilla custard.

Bouchon is as good as it’s always been, since we rocked up to its opening do in summer 2007, since Gordon Ramsay recognised it in 2011, and since our last lunch of soup du jour and steak frites not so long ago. Again, it’s among the best you will find – and you don’t need my dodgy photos to prove it.

Gilesgate, Hexham, NE46 3NJ, tel 01434 609 943,

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