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Lignier's lair is a classic cause for celebration.

We live and eat in a world of fabricated obsession where everyone is desperate to discover the next big thing, the next big name.

Nothing is allowed to build a reputation slowly. We want overnight sensations. Celebrity culture requires shooting stars and kitchens are no exception. And so television has made stars of chefs who deserve the acclaim and stars of idiots who don't. 'Twas ever thus in the fame game.

TV has played a crucial role in raising the profile of a professional that used to be not seen and not heard. Don't you sometimes yearn for those days, the era before Jamie, Nigella and the short bloke who was nicked for shoplifting? Chefs laboured away behind swing doors and were judged on the quality of their food rather than the cut of their jib, the hilarity of their soundbites or their ability to perform pseudo-sexual acts with spoons of chocolate mousse. Today, the brand is everything.

The brand opens the door to lucrative franchising deals. The brand opens the door to culinary sterility. Bernard Lignier is a man with no brand. He is a chef with no profile. There's a fair chance you've never heard of him and Lignier is probably fine with that. He has got far more important things on his mind, like baking tomorrow's brioche.

This 63-year-old chef represents a dying breed, not just in this country but in his native France. There used to be a Lignier in every town and village from the Pas-de-Calais to the Cote D'Azur. Not any more. The job's too tough and diners have been seduced by the dumbed down Americanisation of cuisine.

There are still great restaurants in France and plenty of very good ones, far more than in the UK. It's just that there aren't as many as there used to be.

The fact there is someone like Lignier still cooking on Birmingham's rural doorstep, in genteel Kenilworth, is a cause for celebration. Well, it is for me. It is because of chefs like Lignier, who was schooled in the gutsy cooking of South West France, that I fell in love with food as a child - the sauces, the creaminess, the cheesiness, the Frenchiness.

In a world of flitting food fads and fly-by-night restaurants, Lignier and his English wife Jane have been standard bearers for classic cooking values for three decades. Under the couple's tenure, Restaurant Bosquet, on Warwick Road, has been going strong for 31 years. It must be one of the longest running chefpatron restaurants in Britain and that in itself is a remarkable achievement.

The restaurant's longevity can be put down to the chef's unwavering commitment to a simple philosophy - cooking food that people want to eat.

Lignier has done the rounds, got the gongs and counts a bone fide legend as his best mate. Born in Lourdes, he met Pierre Koffmann at catering school in Tarbes. They have known each other since they were 15 and were best man at each other's weddings. Koffmann pops in to Restaurant Bosquet when he visits the Midlands.

Lignier picked up his first Michelin star at Mallory Court in Warwickshire in the late 70s and was awarded another at Le Bressan in Kensington before taking over Restaurant Bosquet (which means "grove") in 1981. In the kitchen, Lignier is a one-man band. He does the lot. When I pop into the kitchen at the end of a terrific meal with the Godfather, Lignier is cleaning down after a mid-week service. There are fresh pastries and loaves of bread on a work surface. When you see that, you have to smile.

Reviews of Restaurant Bosquet tend to bring up the fact that dining here is like sitting in someone's front room. That is because the building was, and in part still is, a residential property. It doesn't particularly feel like a front room to me, though, and the fact that it is part of Maison Lignier merely adds to ambiance. True, ambiance can be hard to come by on a quiet Thursday night but I like going to restaurants for the food, not to take notes about the soft furnishing or listen to the latest piped music. I've got the Godfather for company and that's good enough for me.

An old-fashioned corner bar, permitting access to Lignier's lair, adds to the French bistro vibe. As do the rustic canaps, big flavoured, gooey tomato on discs of light pastry that set the tone for a big flavoured meal.

The Godfather stole my thunder and ordered the lamb sweetbreads, sauted and served with a truffle and madeira sauce and a potato galette. The other starters included scallops with a saffron sauce and a belly port and lobster combo with celeriac and horseradish puree and a vin doux and grapefruit sauce.

The latter would take some skill to pull off, but I've no idea if it worked because the chef agreed to my cheeky request to have the day's fish special, turbot, as a starter. Both the sweetbreads and the fish were excellent, the flavours of my childhood dreams, unfussed, free of superfluous deconstruction. The turbot, that grand celebration fish, was cooked on the button with a classic cep sauce and salsify. No drizzles of oil, no beach harvested moss. Just pick up your bread, introduce to plate, wipe and eat.

The Don had the other day's special, venison, while I lost myself in perfectly cooked slices of veal loin bathed in a rich truffle sauce, accompanied by a oneperson cylinder of pomme dauphinoise and spinach. This is what good food is about.

The veal was meant to have a wild mushroom sauce but Lignier switched it, without me having to ask, so it didn't replicate my turbot sauce. Don't you love it when the chef is a step ahead of you? The dessert. Oh my. I won't have a better one this year. I'll have fancier, far fancier, but I won't have better than Lignier's simple prune and Armagnac ice cream. The Godfather skipped pudding. I couldn't have cared less. I was in a world of my own.

Petit fours maison arrived with coffee. The little apple tartlet had that treacly pastry base and sweet fruit of which dreams are made.

Dinner for two with a fine bottle of Mercurey (pounds 33) was pounds 116. If you know somewhere else where you can get cooking this good for pounds 58 a head, including good wine, tell me. I might even take you there.


Bernard Lignier in the kitchen at Restaurant Bosquet in Kenilworth
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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