Outstanding French cuisine at Le Nantais Bistro!
Le Nantais, literally “The Man from Nantes”, is a fantastic French bistro on Church Road, just west of Palmeira Square. On the bus route, and with a taxi rank nearby, it’s dead easy to get to and well worth the journey. Le Nantais in question is the brilliant and exacting head Chef Pascal Benamari who brings us the kind of fresh, classy food only a passionate perfectionist in love with his craft possibly could.
Elegant and inviting
Outside Le Nantais Bistro there is a distinctive black and white checkerboard tiled terrace with typical French café tables and inside, the décor is clean, simple and elegant. The high ceiling, large windows and off-white tongue and groove walls make it feel spacious and bright. The dark wood floor and comfortable dark furniture create a striking contrast. Though it is a fairly intimate restaurant, the layout and acoustics make it feel relaxed, private and romantic.
A warm welcome
Chilled jazz creates a laid-back atmosphere and a smattering of large paintings provide a splash of colour. Our fellow diners were a reassuring mix of French customers after a taste of home, and local regulars who clearly knew they were onto a good thing. To drink, we shared a bottle of fresh, citrusy Colombard and to keep our hunger at bay, a ramekin of big, fat, juicy olives. A basket of lovely, warm, fresh, multi-seed bread, soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside, arrived shortly after.
For his starter, my husband Andrew had the scallops and black pudding open ravioli with shimeji mushroom emulsion and micro herbs. It was a stunning, glossy, inviting plate of food, comfortably worthy of the front cover of a high-end foodie magazine. Everything had been lovingly placed with meticulous care and the aroma was intoxicating.
The flavours and textures were lush, from the initial heady hit of garlic through to the beautifully caramelised, delicate, tender, scallops.
Hidden beneath the glistening pasta were chunks of rich, meaty black pudding and scattered across the top were pretty, little, succulent mushrooms and wonderful, fresh herbs. It was poetry on a plate!
I had the Vol au vent with mushrooms, peas, spinach, asparagus and wild rocket.
Again, it was a work of art and utterly delicious!
A golden, buttery, flaky, pastry case, filled with earthy mushrooms, sweet peas, mineral rich spinach and topped with vibrant green asparagus. More than a few of my favourite things and all in a sumptuous, indulgent, creamy sauce.
For his main, Andrew had the venison bourguignon. It’s tricky to make a bowl of stew look elegant but it certainly looked inviting. A lustrous, dark chocolate coloured sauce with great chunks of succulent, tender, lean meat and firm, sweet carrots. The depth of flavour was incredible and It was nothing short of the best bourgignon or, for that matter, stew of any kind, I have ever tasted.
Our waiter suggested a side of green beans and dauphinoise potatoes. The green beans, simply cooked so they were still a little crunchy, and the best dauphinoise potatoes this side of the channel! Golden and gooey, soft and salty, and oozingly creamy, just mouth-watering!
‘Seamlessly spot on’
It was at about this point in the meal that we started to realise just how special this restaurant was. Incredibly well-balanced flavours and expert use of seasoning meant you really wanted to savour every single mouthful. I’m usually a real gannet but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so slowly. Everything was so seamlessly spot on, even down to the temperature of the food. There is often a risk, with stews or cheesy dishes, of scalding your mouth, so you blow and you wait and you tentatively try until it is safely edible, but here, everything was just right.
To make things look that effortlessly flawless takes real skill.
My Roast Monkfish ballotine was another triumph. A firm, meaty, subtly flavoured white fish wrapped in savoury parma ham with delicious wilted spinach and an impossibly velvety celeriac purée that, on its own, was quite sweet but combined with the punchy spinach, salty ham and intense, shimmering, langoustine bisque, created a perfectly harmonious whole.
Delightful, Delicate and Delicious dining
For dessert I had the tarte tatin. Generous chunks of juicy apples on a crisp pastry base. The caramel had gone a little over to my taste but it was marginal and any bitterness was pleasantly offset by the smooth, mellow, vanilla ice-cream. Andrew had the banoffee pie, French style and yum! Soft and sweet, fresh and creamy, everything you want in a dessert. Not too heavy after a filling meal but pleasing and indulgent, a proper big kid’s dessert, all washed down with a rather more grown up glass of intense, ambrosial Muscat.
A shining star in Hove
Serious credit to the chefs and all at Le Nantais Bistro, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Bon Appetit!