GRACE AND FLAVOUR
Grace Dent is barking mad for the Alsatian fare at Bellanger Downsize to the provinces if you must, enjoy your fresh air, but don’t grizzle to me when your birthday soirée is at a Chiquito on a leisure-retail complex
One of the things I love about visiting new Corbin & King ventures is that they offer not just an opportunity for more lightly veiled piggery, but also a crash course in cultural anthropology. Bellanger, on Islington Green, celebrates the food and ambience of the classic brasseurs of yesteryear Alsace. Obviously, you’re genned up on that, aren’t you? Don’t fret, none of us are. But ten minutes through the doors at Bellanger, having demolished a tarte flambée Alsacienne, a plate of baeckeoffe with a side of pommes aligot, then a cleansing scoop of sorbet Gewürz, you’ll be quite the expert. Tartes flambées, you’ll know by this point, are wafer-thin, wood fire-cooked Alsatian pizzas, slathered with crème fraîche and scattered with various non-diet items such as lardons, Munster cheese or Calvados-laced apples. You’ll also know the behind-the-scenes hoopla that transforms baeckeoffe from a plain old stew.
‘I’m a terrific fan,’ you’ll be able to drop casually into conversation with out-of-town friends, ‘of the classic Franco-German dining style of Alsace brasseur.’ And inwardly they’ll hate you and gossip that you really disappeared up your own chuff when you moved to London. But this envy is to be expected. A strong reason to stay put in the capital is for Corbin & King’s elegant, dependable yet still surprising restaurants such as The Delaunay, Fischer’s and The Colony Grill Room (the last being one of my favourite places to be in London). Oh, downsize to the provinces if you must, enjoy your fresh air, but don’t grizzle to me when your birthday soirée is at a Chiquito on a leisure-retail complex. Don’t cry to me when these regional folk don’t know Coke floats have taken a 180-degree shift and are cool again. Bellanger feels to me like a delightful mix of The Delaunay (European old-school glitz pulled off with Manhattan chic) and the gloriously eccentric Fischer’s (schnitzel, würstchen and Viennese konditorei). Seating a plentiful 200 — and with a cute bar rather perfect for solo dining or bière sampling — Bellanger takes over the pretty, cobbly, twinkly, Richard Curtis-style section of Angel where Upper Street splits off towards Essex Road. It was always wasted on that enormous Browns Brasserie & Bar. But then I’ve had a morbid fear of Browns ever since I went on a date to the St Martin’s Lane branch in 1997 where the man drank so heavily — possibly to void the reality of me — he knocked over the restaurant reception kiosk on the way out and then fell down the stairs. For me, the fewer of these places the better. We visited Bellanger on a drab, rainy, non-negotiably winter’s evening and it certainly worked in cheering me up. We ate our smoky, moreish Alsacienne tarte flambée with glasses of Crémant d’Alsace. A generous slice of warm quiche Lorraine was very good. The gratin de ravioles du Royans is what happens when cheese and parsley-stuffed ravioli is baked in a skillet with yet more cheese and parsley — ie, terrific fun, but nothing that will make zipping up one’s jeans easier. A pot of coq au Riesling for two went marvellously with pommes aligot and sauerkraut.
There are five types of saucisses if that’s your thing, including boudin blanc with sherry and wild boar with cranberry and venison. Both veal and chicken schnitzel are also there to sate your Fischer’s addiction without the schlepp to Marylebone. We shared a nice, if standard, gâteau forêt-noire and I sent myself home before I ransacked the cheeses: Brie de Meaux, Comté Affiné and Munster Affinage, all served with caraway bread, walnuts and honey. I’m a huge convert to Alsatian food and my intentions to return are, well, dogged.