Le Bien Manger
103-105 High Street
Phone:- 0208 680 7755
Le Bien Manger opened in the second half of 2002. It comprises a bar and restaurant specialising in continental cuisine.
Eva and I tried it out for the first time one Saturday evening in September 2002.
The restaurant and bar, being newly opened, have been decorated in a modern (almost Scandinavian) style. Comfortable blue upholstered wooden chairs are complemented by blue tablecloths which suit the stylish polished wooden floors and blue and white walls.
The restaurant is very brightly lit, by halogen spot lights, both Eva and I thought that the lighting was excessively bright; more akin to the neighbouring pizza restaurant than what one would wish for on a romantic meal for two.
The restaurant has large windows facing out onto the street, and offers (as an estate agent would say) “unparalleled vistas” of the street life outside. This unfortunately being Croydon High Street on a Saturday night it is not necessarily an asset in its favour.
The restaurant and bar are well proportioned, and sufficiently well ventilated to allow people to smoke without it annoying other diners. The temperature, something which so often some restaurants seem unable/unwilling to control, was just right.
The modestly sized bar is situated in the left hand corner of the restaurant, I did not see any bar stools around it and it was not clear as to whether people can just come in for a drink.
The restaurant offers an eclectic mixture of tapas, French and pasta dishes; ranging from meatballs, mussels to pork shank. I was tempted to try selections from each, but that would have been too greedy! There’s always next time.
The wine list offered a decent selection of European and New World wines, priced on average between £14-£25.
One eccentricity, which I suggest the management address, is that there is a 70p per head charge for bread rolls. Our waitress asked if we would like some, and as these are just a normal part of the overheads in most restaurants I said yes. A small matter of quirky principle on my part, maybe, but I do not order bread rolls if they are charged for separately.
When we arrived we had not booked a table, but we were shown to one instantaneously without any pretentious fuss about checking bookings.
The staff were attentive and friendly, the service prompt and accurate. We asked for a doggy bag (I being the doggy) at the end, for the remnants of Eva’s pork shank, and our waitress happily obliged.
I started with a Spanish omelette from the tapas selection, this consisted of two good sized slices of a well presented tasty egg and potato omelette. I followed on with a sirloin steak (cooked rare) in pepper sauce with French fries. The steak was a decent size (I believe about 10oz) and had a good layer of fat around it, I do not like places where the fat is removed as the steak is often dry and tasteless. The steak had been properly cooked to my specification and was tender; the fat had some sinew but that did not detract from my enjoyment of the meat. I would say that the sauce was a little bland and thin. I would recommend more peppercorn, brandy and double cream (my forthcoming recipe book will contain a pepper sauce recipe). The french-fries were of good quality, and clearly superior to the fat injected muck served by the ever encroaching fast food outlets.
I rounded the meal off with crepes in Grand Marnier. The portion was generous, four crepes in a good layer of sauce. I was a little disappointed that they were not flambéed, but you can’t have everything!
Eva had the smoked salmon and capers for her starter. This was well presented, ie it was served as salmon should be “plain and simple”; a generous plate of salmon garnished with capers, lemon and a little side salad.
Eva then had the pork shank in apple sauce as a main course, with a medley of carrots cauliflower and haricot vert accompaniment. She thoroughly enjoyed it, and I must compliment the chef. This was a generous shank which had been well cooked so that the meat, which was very tender, literally fell off the bone. I must confess that I am munching on the remains, that we took home in the doggy bag, as I write this. The apple sauce was thin (not the chunky English kind that needs to be spooned from a jar) and complimented the pork. The vegetables were not overcooked, nor were they undercooked, and were well presented with a light dusting of parmesan.
The overall meal, which included two gin and tonics and a good £20 bottle of Chablis, came to a reasonable £74 before tip.
I present below a few, well intentioned, suggestions; which I hope are taken by the management in the spirit in which they are intended:
Don’t charge for the bread, this only serves to annoy.
Install wooden slatted blinds on the windows, this will serve to keep out the sights of Croydon on a Friday/Saturday night.
Turn the lighting down, this will add a romantic ambience to the restaurant.
Place larger, and more, candles on the tables. The small night lights placed in the elegant blue glass holders are nice, but not enough to create atmosphere.
We both agree that we will most definitely visit the restaurant again in the near future, and are happy to recommend it.