We had waited until the very last minute this year to book something for Valentine’s Day dinner, because it had been unclear if we were both going to be in the country. We were then at first thinking about doing dinner at one of London’s top restaurants, but after further reflection we decided not to re-mortgage the flat and chose cheap, chirpy, and cheerful Pierre Victoire Bistro in Soho’s Dean Street, just off Soho Square and Tottenham Court Road tube station, ranking an impressive #254 out of 17,882 London restaurants on Tripadvisor, one of the very few restaurants that would still take bookings.
The restaurant has been well-established as pre-theatre dinner venue for nearly 20 years and, we hear, is rarely seen with any significant number of empty seats. There certainly weren’t any (except for ours) when we arrived. The atmosphere in the tube-like, busy, crammed, traditionally decorated dining room on the ground floor (there is another small dining room in the basement) felt reassuringly French, warm and welcoming. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and we were certainly planning on having a great time ourselves on this special day.
The ‘only’ option of the day was to go for the 3-course £29.90 Valentine’s Set Menu, but boy did they have lots of different starters, mains and desserts to choose from. (On regular days they offer 2-course set lunch for £9.90 and 2-course set dinner for £12.90, also with an impressive variety of traditional French dishes that changes every two weeks; plus on regular days, of course, they have their a la carte menu, where mains are roughly £13 to £17.)
We went for the beetroot, chilli and dill salmon Gravadlax, champagne mustard and celeriac remoulade with three little blinis, and grilled mussels escargot style (the French call it Moules a l’Escargot) in garlic, Pernod and parsley butter for starters. For mains we chose a medium-rare ribeye steak, mashed potatoes, light blue cheese and pepper sauce, sprinkled with nutty baby watercress, and Beef Bourguignon with celeriac mash, root vegetables, and Jerusalem artichoke crisps, and a nice bottle of red wine.
While this definitely and very unsurprisingly didn’t quite compare with some of the top-end places we’ve dined at over the years, I was very impressed with all four dishes.
I had not come across mussels escargot style before, but was immediately taken in by this culinary idea. Strictly speaking Pierre Victoire did not stick with the rules (according to my quick google research after the meal), because in the same way escargots are being served in their shells, so should the mussels have been, but you can see where they were coming from: the shells would not have fit into the metal tray intended for the smaller shells of escargots, so in order to keep up the appearance and use the same tray, the shells had to go. I thought the mussels went very well with this set-up, even though maybe it would have been even better with a thicker, richer, more buttery, herby and garlicky mix, the real ‘beurre d’escargot’. Then again, it was Valentine’s day, so very thoughtful of them to take it easy on the greasy and smelly stuff.
While my wife wasn’t too impressed with the mussels, she absolutely loved the Gravadlax. I found the salmon strips very tasty too, but much preferred the mussels, both for taste and for (at least for me) the exotic factor.
The mains were both very generously sized. The steak was just right with a nice charcoal touch, and I liked the sauce, that came with it. The Beef Bourguignon was clearly the more sophisticated dish of the two, one of the dishes always ranking among the top five French dishes if you ask the French, and it did not disappoint. The beef was very tender and the play of the different ingredients worked well.
The cheese platter, which I had for dessert, must rank among the smallest I’ve seen, with just two tiny slices of camembert, a few bits of crumbly blue cheese, a bit of white bread and three crackers, but thank heavens, because I would not have been able to eat any more. The Classic Banoffee Pie my wife chose, was extremely flavoursome and rather rich and we decided to walk home on a detour in order to walk it all off.
We’ve already decided (1) to book a top place for Valentine’s dinner next year well in advance, and (2) to come back to Pierre Victoire to check out their regular menu.