Bellanger review: “Good enough to increase Islington house prices?”
- Credit: Archant
Like its sister restaurants The Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel, Bellanger feels like it’s been in Islington forever
By now the Waitrose effect, whereby several thousand pounds are added to an area’s house prices as soon as a branch opens on the high street, is well documented.
As yet unstudied is the Corbin & King effect, whereby an instant sheen of glamour is bestowed on the surrounding streets when the restaurateurs’ latest dining destination is unveiled.
Islington, a borough that is home to at least three Waitrose stores, is the latest neighbourhood to be granted this mark of distinction.
Not short of shiny new restaurants for the chattering classes to eat in, the arrival of Bellanger on the former Browns site on Islington Green promises to put the area into a new see and be seen league.
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Inspired by the Alsatian brasseries of Paris, the restaurant has all the pseudo-historical European atmosphere of its sister restaurants, which include The Wolseley, The Delaunay and Brasserie Zedel and shares their remarkable ability to make the year’s hot new opening feel like it’s been there forever. Yet it steers clear of feeling like a theme restaurant by virtue of comfort, convenience and the sense – which The Wolseley manages to retain after 13 years – of being a must visit; no mean feat in a city obsessed with whatever food fads make it across the Atlantic.
There’s nothing faddy – or new – here though. Perhaps not since the 1950s have such dishes as Quiche Lorraine or Crepes Suzette appeared on a fashionable menu but here they feel timeless, even rather exotic as they must have done post-rationing.
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I order gratin de ravioles du royans to start, a dish of ravioli in creamed spinach under a thick layer of grilled cheese. A day’s heavy mountain walking rather than heavy typing would have set me up better for tackling it but it is rich and warming on a drizzly January evening.
Veal schnitzel and a side of pommes aligot (mashed potato with a hearty helping of cheese melted in) continue the mitteleuropean vibe. By now I feel like I’ve had my month’s recommended allowance of fat and carbohydrate, but the potatoes are so brazenly delicious I can’t stop myself taking just one more spoonful after another.
I valiantly order dessert – in the name of research – the Belle Helene ice cream coupe, with poached pears, pear sorbet, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. It’s delicious and makes me feel nostalgic for a time I’ve never experienced.
I suddenly understand my mum’s descriptions of leaving restaurants in the 1970s feeling quite sick on heavy creamy dishes. Which is not quite a criticism.
The last restaurant that brought genuine excitement to Upper Street was Ottolenghi. Bellanger may offer a more familiar menu and classic ambience to Ottolenghi, but it once again turns the spotlight on Islington as a dining destination.