L’Artisan French Restaurant
Restaurant L’Artisan in one Paragraph:
A restaurant for grown ups, but we find it noticeably less library-like than some fine dining restaurants locally. It’s thoroughly French, from the hostess to the classical French-led menu. Not terrific for vegetarians. Interesting lunch-themed menus from time to time. 3 courses £50+
The Longer Read:
With its balconies and half-curtained windows L’Artisan looks the part. The owners are French, Yves and Elisabeth Ogrodzki, who sold up in Provence and headed to Cheltenham a few years ago, via a restaurant in Leicestershire. L’Artisan is now an established part of the local dining scene, joining Cheltenham restaurants such as Purslane, Curry Corner, Lumiere, Champignon and White Spoon that are ‘fine dining’, in terms of ambition and/or execution.
L’Artisan Inside and Out
The restaurant’s exterior is smart and restrained but, inside, the colour scheme is typically sun-inspired Provençal. The other sunny thing inside is Elizabeth, the co-owner, who is a natural host.
We’ve noted elsewhere how the ‘fine dining’ label often leads to a sort of respectful gloom in some Cheltenham dining rooms. No such worries here. Elizabeth’s warm smile and beautiful French accent (think Mme. Peignoir in that episode of Fawlty Towers) set the tone front of house. It’s infectious. Grumpy Cheltonians quickly relax and are even tempted to try a little GCSE French on the staff. The thing is that people are relaxed enough to speak at volume. Put all that another way; it’s fun to dine here.
Chef is Yves, Elizabeth’s husband. You can see part of the kitchen from the dining room and it looks to be one of those calm, efficient operations, always a good sign. Service was well paced, attentive and unpretentious. There are perhaps 26 covers downstairs and also a dining room upstairs, good for another 20 or so covers (I’d keep this in mind if I was looking for a private dinner party venue).
Expect the menu at L’Artisan to draw on classical French cuisine. Typically dishes such as 9 Snails in Garlic Butter and Parsley (£8.95), ‘Variation around the Duck‘ (Duck Raviola, Smoked Duck, Duck Liver Foam (£8.95)), Pan Fried Scallops and King Prawn on a Pastilla of Brocciu Corsica Ewe Cheese (£10.95) (Incidentally a pastilla is a kind of filo pie – an Andalusian dish) or Braised Red Wine Beef Risotto, Asparagus and Glazed Chantenay Carrots (£7.95 ).
There are usually 3 main fish courses – Yves is fond of ‘duos’, such as Duo of Seabream and Brill, Asparagus Cream (£20.95). Meat courses might include Grilled Rib of Beef on the Bone (£22.95), French Farm Rabbit Leg with Whole Grain Mustard Cream (£16.95), Suckling Pig Belly, Stuffed Corn Fed Chicken Breast “à la Provençale” (£16.95) or Pan Fried Veal “Noisettes”, Apple and Normandy Cider Creamy Sauce (£20.95). Note that Pommes-Frites are extra (£3.50), as are vegetables (£5.95). Vegetarians have limited choice, that’s the French way, but what there is is OK, for example; Carrots, Spinach and Ratatouille Pastilla, Red Pepper Coulis (£14.95).
Cheese (£8.95) and puddings (£6.95).
The L’Artisan Dining Experience
It’s likely that you’ll be sat downstairs, since upstairs is only opened as and when needed. Tables are nicely spaced and there are no really dud seats. You’ll either have your back to the bar or the street, except for a couple of tables by the window.
On our visit we were offered an amuse-bouche of marinated salmon with vegetables on arrival.
House aperitifs are Kir Royale and various vin mousseaux variations (about £7.95).The wine list seems to have a fair mark-up, with entry level wines-by-the-glass are £3.50. Beers are a little dull (Kronenbourg, Guinness (!) etc). France’s wine-drinking culture meant that, until recently, there wasn’t too much point in heading to France for decent beer. It would be good to see some of the new French craft beers available, or maybe some Cotswold Brew Co options. Time for a research trip to Favourite Beers?
‘A Walk in the Forest…’
A starter of ‘A Walk in the Forest…’ (£8.95) was a harmonious-tasting sum of different parts. Wild boar rillette, pigeon breast, smoked pheasant, mushroom and blueberry sauce. A ‘leaf’, made from chestnut flour concealed a delicious walnut mousse, one of the nicest things I’ve eaten for a while. The presentation was slightly colour-funky, with a lurid parsley (?) sponge, but to worry about that is to miss the point. It’s tasty.
Another starter of Asparagus, Spinach, Tomato, Onion and Basil Roulade (£7.95) again saw flavours working well together, helped by a herb cream.
Bread, flavoured butters etc are all made in-house.
Turbot and Red Mullet. A bad pic, but we dislike cameras hovering over food like gastronomic drones.
From a choice of seafood mains, Duo of Turbot and Red Mullet (£23.95) was served en persillade, with an intensely buttery and garlic flavour that stayed with me for a while and may have led to some dreams that night, all about butter and walking in a garlic forest. The turbot was slightly overcooked, but not enough to spoil the fun. It’s not a forgiving fish.
Vegetables included mangetout, leek with fennel and a really tasty smoked aubergine in a filo parcel. We ordered frites, which had that authentic tallowy tang.
Another main, Seared Beef Fillet (£24.95) was everything that dish should be. Green peppercorn sauce (£1.95) was the real deal too, the hint of cognac was spot on.
Puddings at L’Artisan
L’Artisan Restaurant’s Crème Brûlée (£6.95) is often mentioned by reviewers, a sugary creamy hit served with Chantilly cream and strawberries. Crêpes with Orange Sauce (£7.95) were the best I’ve had, thanks to a perfect acid/sweetness balance. A winner and nearly enough to stop me stealing the crème brûlée.
This restaurant is good for romantics, lovers of traditional French food and diners who want to cheer up.
L’Artisan doesn’t have many covers, so booking ahead is a good idea. If you do, they’ll call you on the morning of your booking to check that you are coming. Quite right too – some estimates reckon that as many as 1 in 10 restaurant table bookings don’t turn up. That’s rude – and a great way to make yourself unpopular with, especially, independent restaurants.
I’d happily head back to L’Artisan anytime. Prices are fair (dinner as above was £110 for two), especially when you consider the price of butter… They are, however, at a level which makes dining here more of a special occasion thing, for most of us, anyway. If you’d like to check out L’Artisan for a lower price, try lunch midweek. Yves Ogrodzki puts on various themed lunches according to whim or season – mussels or cassoulet for example. Worth keeping an eye on, I reckon.