Restaurant Review: Le Bistro des Amis, Skipton

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Opened last December, this is the brainchild of chef proprietor Luc Dagazon, a French-born chef who has had plenty of culinary experience around Yorkshire. Formerly of the award-winning Italian restaurant Salvo’s in Leeds, Dagazon specialises in French-influenced cuisine but with a traditional and Continental twist on the menu.

First impressions are very positive. The atmosphere is informal and friendly. Downstairs is a cosy bar area with a relaxed, intimate feel and though it is possible to eat there, we opted to go upstairs to the 50-seater restaurant. Decor in both the bar and the restaurant is simple and comfortable with wooden tables, high-backed leather chairs and subtle up-lighting. There were candles the tables and in window alcoves to create a warm ambience.

Black and white images by French photographer Robert Doisneau adorn the walls to enhance the appealing Gallic theme. A large party was enjoying a meal in the restaurant as we arrived but only two other tables upstairs were occupied so that once the party left at about 9pm, the place felt a little empty. That wasn’t a problem, however, and for a Wednesday evening it was good to see such a sizeable group in the restaurant.

The young, attentive (sometimes over-eager) staff were amiable and helpful, although we got the impression from around 9.45pm onwards that they were, perhaps understandably, keen to get home and since we were by then the only remaining customers, we felt a little pressurised to finish our coffee and the last of the wine. There were minor quibbles because the food and wine were superb and great value for money.

Bistro caters from morning coffee and pastries through lunchtime sandwiches and light bites, to an early evening menu du jour or a three-course evening meal. Non-diners are welcome in the bar at any time and there is plenty of choice for youngsters too with a special Les Petits Amis menu, making this a family-friendly place, another thing very much in its favour.

The a la carte menu features starters and light dishes ranging from soup of the day at £4.95 to Confit belly port and black pudding salad at £5.75. Other starters include Greek salad and French-style pork and hazelnut paté with crusty bread and cornichons. Starter specials ranged from £5.25 for pigs cheeks terrine with lemon, chilli and parsley with crusty bread and moules marinieres at £7.25.

A wholesome French onion soup starter was served with a generous supply of bread – with butter – on the side. The soup exceeded expectations. Dark and rich, with a hint of sweetness, the consistency was ideal: not a hint of undercooked, oversized slices of onion. For those wanting a light bite, this would make a meal in itself and a wonderful winter warmer: for those with a heartier appetite, it makes a perfect start to a night of French cuisine.

A plate of tapenade – rich paste of olives, capers and anchovies – and lovely wafer-thin crispy croutons made an excellent light starter, ideal for sharing as nibbles if you were just popping in for a glass of a wine with friends. The wine list offered a wide selection, mainly of French wines. We sampled an excellent fruity rosé and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc – both French and both great value at £3.70 a glass, or thereabouts.

There was a good choice of vegetarian options. Fresh fish is delivered daily from Fleetwood and on the Specials menu there was a wide choice, including Pan-Seared Sea Bass, Roasted Cod Fillet, Baked Scallops and Grilled Mackerel Fillets. The baked aubergine filled with Mediterranean vegetables and ricotta cheese served with mixed leaves, roasted potatoes, tomato and basil sauce was mouth-wateringly delicious.

The aubergine and vegetables were cooked to just the right consistency with a good bite and crunch. The portion-size of the ricotta was well-judged as too much can make a dish too rich and the cheese’s strong taste can drown out other more subtle flavours. Perfect small roast potatoes and mixed leaves were an excellent accompaniment.

A dish of Poached Haddock, on a bed of mashed potatoes with spinach in a white wine cream sauce and poached egg was an accomplished treat. The filleted fish was succulent – melt in the mouth – and subtly smoky, just as it should be. You can often judge the quality of a restaurant by how much attention is paid to the mashed potato (or pomme purée) and Le Bistro des Amis more than passes muster. The buttery smoothness of the mash – not too salty – was the perfect match for the haddock, soaking up the creamy sauce. Spinach can sometimes be a little bland and watery but here again the care taken to serve the dish just as it should be was obvious. All in all, a pleasing plateful.

Poached pear in red wine and spices with liquorice ice-cream was a nice, light dessert, although the liquorice became a little overpowering after the first few teaspoonfuls. Glazed lemon tart – a fine traditional French dessert – with fresh raspberries was one of the best I’ve ever tasted: zingy and zesty with a wonderful pastry crust.

Our three-course meal for two with wine and coffee came to a very reasonable £63.55 excluding service. Highly recommended.

Le Bistro des Amis, 1 Jerry Croft (off the High Street), Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 1DT. Tel: 01756 797919. Open Mon-Sat 10am until late. Last orders for food: lunch 2.30pm; dinner 9pm. Sunday 11am-10.30pm. Last orders for food 8pm.