This restaurant is part of the Thomas Keller/French Laundry empire. It has been exquisitely designed and fitted out to provide an authentic recreation of a Parisian brasserie (minus the stink of Gauloises, obviously) but more comfortable and with far better levels of service than you would expect in France. Menus re printed on tissue paper wrapped around the napkins but otherwise crisp white linen prevails.
Bouchon has an excellent range of dishes including shellfish platters. There was good, crusty bread and butter offered on arrival. Our first starter, a plate of charcuterie, was substantial with 4 generous servings of good quality meats accompanied by a very pretty selection of pickled vegetables. Our second, a plate of 3 large beignets filled with brandade, was beautifully light but could perhaps have been a bit more fishy.
Helpings of our main courses were huge: my 'special' was a very dark and intensely flavoured piece of slow-cooked lamb shoulder (similar in appearance although far superior in execution to a dish well-known to the pubs of the English Lake District) accompanied by a cute piece of potato fondant and something resembling a vegetable mille-feuille of aubergine, tomato and chickpeas; my wife's half roast chicken came in two large pieces and with melted leeks, parsnips, cranberries and orange-scented jus. To our shame, we also ordered (and finished) a side of excellent fries. We were still able, just, to make it through to desserts where we had iles flottantes and a tarte tatin, the latter again well-executed but a bit subdued in flavour. There was excellent espresso to finish.
Not for the first time I find it hard to reconcile our experience with that of one or two recent TA reviewers. Service was extremely courteous and our waiter (Justin B) was especially impressive. He checked scrupulously to ensure certain dishes did not contain even a scintilla of mushroom, to which I am allergic, and kept water and wine topped up throughout the evening. There was a range of good and affordable wines from both California and Europe (and a reserve list of hideously expensive ones) - Justin gave us tastings of 2 to enable us to decide which to go for.
Bouchon is not cheap. With a generous but justified tip the bill came to just over $300 but in my view that is what you would pay for a similar experience in central London or New York. We also tried the Bouchon Bakery and the Wine Bar/Cafe, both on the floor below the main restaurant. The former does great pastries, juice and coffee while the latter is a great place for weekend brunch. It has a 'no reservations' policy so get there early if it is a sunny day and you want some shade.
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