‘The proof is in the pudding’ is one of the more uninspired turns of phrase adopted by the British. It derives from the equally unexciting ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating,’ which, I’m told, means that you have to try something in order to verify its merit – glaringly obvious, I would have thought. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, the King James in such matters, claims that topographer William Camden wrote in his 1605 Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine ‘Jt is ywrite that euery thing Hymself sheweth in the tastyng’ as ‘all the proofe of a pudding, is in the eating.’ Perhaps Camden would be turning in his grave to see how we’ve bastardised his musings in our day-to-day life.
So, after a tumultuous week, I thought to myself, what could be better than a delicious French supper, to quell my woes in this time of uncertainty? And there, winking at me in the heart of St James’s, is Boulestin, a relatively new revival of original, which was located in Covent Garden from the 1920s to the late 1990s. What, indeed, could be better for any of us than traditional French food after an exhausting week of British politics? Oh to chomp on some canard and drink to the la Republique and their revolution.
Boulestin looks like it wants you to think it is an institution, with the low-hanging wooden bar and the comforting black and white tiled floor. This is possibly to fend off the ever looming threats of the Corbin-King restaurants that are cropping up all over the city. In fact, the Wolseley is a short walk away from Boulestin. One therefore wants to like Boulestin more: it is miniscule in comparison and, of course, it is independent. Furthermore, there is a charming courtyard at the back of the restaurant, lit by Victorian gas lights where you can dine in the two days of summer and smoke throughout the year.
Its namesake, Marcel Boulestin, was a chef and restaurateur, often credited for the proliferation of French food in non-French countries – an unquestionably worthy deed. Boulestin claims to ‘reimagine’ its namesake’s restaurants, based on the books that he wrote. But alas, alack, woe and misery – I fear that Boulestin may be spinning six feet under, along with Camden. For surely, nowhere in the lexicon of the French kitchen, is a quinoa grain to be found. Particularly not alongside a pomegranate seed.
The menu is therefore adventurous, probably an attempt to differentiate Boulestin from other similar models. I chose a burrata and tomato tart, which turned out to be a posh pizza that was a bit heavy on the tapenade; my companion went for grilled octopus with rhubarb. The octopus was smokey and meaty – a rare and delicious treat. For the main course, I chose poussin cooked three ways, my companion opted for the blackened Iberico pork with broad beans and marjoram jus. The poussin was good, I can’t deny it, but it would have been better if it had been cooked one way, well. This, it seems is a common theme at Boulestin – over-shooting, so to speak. The food was perfectly good, the house white – a picpoul – perfectly drinkable. The dining experience (another uninspired British phrase) was overshadowed by a maitre d’ who didn’t seem to hold his hardworking waitresses in high esteem.
There’s a lot to be said for Boulestin. The menu is ambitious, and as such, it’s definitely worth trying. But we didn’t stay for pudding.