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'Staycation' with a chic French twist; FAMILY DINING KATHARINE CAPOCCI Bouchon Bistrot, Hexham.

OUR family has been enjoying a good old-fashioned "staycation" this year. Instead of our usual jet-away-from-it-all break we've been zipping around the market towns on the doorstep - in between getting jobs done on the house.

On our travels we've been uncovering the charms of various continental restaurants.

This is in a bid to encapsulate that holiday feeling, to feel like we really, definitely, are on holiday.

Last week it was Spanish tapas in Durham, this week a corner of France in the Tyne Valley in the shape of award-winning Bouchon Bistrot in Hexham.

This stylish restaurant is worth making a detour for if you're out and about in Northumberland. It serves simply cooked food in French country style and was a winner of the UK's Best Local French Restaurant on Gordon Ramsay's F Word in 2009.

It occupies three floors of a very handsome 18th Century building on smart Gilesgate in the heart of Hexham's old leather tanning and merchants' quarter, on a road just off the market place.

It has an easy, relaxed charm - helped by the fact that owner Greg Bureau is on hand, and charm personified, chatting to everyone and making them feel right at home in his bistro.

We immediately felt ourselves warming to the place with its neutral colour scheme on the ground floor, plush curtains and view of the quiet street. It made for a restful, laid-back lunch.

It's chic at the price too. The menu du jour was very competitively priced at two courses for pounds 10.95 and three courses for pounds 13.50. Very tempting.

Dishes are fresh and uncomplicated with an emphasis on French classics such as French onion soup, escargots with garlic butter, coq au vin and desserts of lemon tart and griottines clafoutis.

I chose from the menu du jour, as did the children, available from noon until 2pm, Tuesday to Saturday, while my other half went upmarket and chose from the a la carte menu.

We kicked off with delicious warm and crusty white bread rolls with the butter served up on a slate platter.

From a choice of four starters, mains and desserts, the menu du jour is small, but perfectly formed. Two of us opted for salad Lyonnaise with softly poached egg and bacon.

A classic simple salad it was perfectly executed, the mixed leaves, frisee and red-leaf lollo rosso among them, and bacon and crispy croutons a lovely contrast to the soft egg with deliciously runny yolk.

Daughter's parsnip, leek and potato soup was golden yellow in colour, smooth and creamy. Sweet and comforting was the verdict.

Hubby's dish of grilled king prawns with garlic and parsley butter, pounds 6.95, was delightfully presented. Three juicy prawns, very definitely king-size, were piping hot and simply cooked, nestling on a salad garnish. A dish that encapsulated "holiday".

My main of pan-fried coley with crushed potatoes and petits pois "bonne femme" was again a simple, tasty dish, the flavours shining through in uncomplicated fashion.

The fish was firm and meaty with a crispy skin - and delicate dots of beurre blanc, French wine and butter sauce, garnished the plate, perfect for dipping. The crushed new potatoes were delicious, the addition of fresh mint giving a summery feel.

The other half's crispy duck confit with Lyonnaise potatoes, bacon and Savoy cabbage, pounds 14.95, was another very good dish.

Again, a classic, the duck with crispy skin gave way to soft, succulent flesh, with accompanying tasty sauted potatoes and al dente cabbage with buttery coating.

The children opted for plain and simple steak frites. The meat, a bavette cut (known as skirt or flank here), is presented as a flat piece of steak. And although it is best served medium rare, as it can go tough when cooked through, the older daughter insisted on it being cooked through. Teenagers always know best!

Actually it was still very good, well cooked and well seasoned. She polished off every last piece.

Younger daughter opted for medium rare and was pleased to report it "passed the blood test" with its good pinky middle. A big pile of crisp, skinny chips accompanied each dish, along with a rich, meaty gravy.

Desserts continued in the same excellent vein. Vanilla and rhubarb tart with its sweet but tangy filling was in delicious contrast to the crispy buttery fluted pastry. Arlette millefeuille with fresh raspberries and vanilla cream, pounds 5.50, was creamy fruity heaven sandwiched between caramelised puff pastry top and base. Sweet surrender, this one.

The kids loved the profiteroles au chocolat with vanilla ice cream, pounds 5.25. These were done in the French way, with ice-cream filling rather than cream and deemed more palatable and less sickly. The dish was presented as two giant profiteroles, the hot chocolate reverentially poured over the top by the waiter.

We left feeling a definite French connection to this chic eaterie.

FACTFILE Address: Bouchon Bistrot, 4-6 Gilesgate, Hexham, Northumberland, NE46 3NJ. Tel: 01434 609943 Open: Tue-Sat, noon-2pm, 6pm-9.30pm.

First impressions: Handsome 18th Century three-storey building on street leading down from the market place. Welcome: Very warm. Owner Greg Bureau much in evidence, very friendly and chatty. Style, design and furnishings: Smart bistro feel but cosy and inviting. Beams and plush curtains, plus retro posters, and white table linen. Upstairs colour scheme features warm shades of plum.

Cuisine: French. Drinks: Cuve Duboeuf, pounds 3.35 per 175ml glass. Fentimans rose lemonade and Victorian lemonade, pounds 2.30; Diet Coke, pounds 2.30.

Service: Friendly and professional, but personal too. Value: Excellent quality at very good price, especially menu du jour, two courses for pounds 10.95 and three courses, pounds 13.50.

Disabled facilities: Accessible.


TRADITION AT ITS CORE Stylish Bouchon Bistrot on Gilesgate in Hexham
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Article Type:Restaurant review
Date:Aug 12, 2011
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