‘Eat Out to Help Out’? Bellanger revival is priceless
The government scheme aimed at helping restaurants may have ended, but as one landmark French brasserie returns, customers can’t believe their luck
03 September, 2020 — By Tom Moggach
IT’S a tense week for restaurants now that the era of £10 discounts has come to an end. “Eat Out to Help Out” was a huge success, with more than 64 million claims for meals during August.
Its simple brilliance was more psychological than financial: the discount tempted people to step foot in restaurants and cafés once again, restoring confidence in a sector under strain. But will the customers return?
A further repercussion of Covid-19 is the urge to stay local. Some people are reluctant to travel by public transport to eat out; activity in central London is a whisper of what it once was.
This phenomenon has sparked a remarkable story – the revival of Bellanger restaurant.
If you’ve never been, this landmark French brasserie in Islington closed a year ago, much to the horror of its legion fans. The owners – the famous Corbin and King – were attempting sell the lease. But, miraculously, they had left the lavish Belle Époque interior intact and were using the place for storage. Now it’s trading once again, in a trial that will last until at least December.
Needless to say, many locals cannot believe their luck. One friend made three reservations on the very first day.
Corbin and King understand the essence of the restaurant experience. It’s not all about the food; more the sense of occasion, the sheer beauty of the room, the impeccable service.
Obviously, they have made a few changes: tables are widely spaced; every contact point is zealously cleaned.
The reception desk is mounted with a state-of-the-art thermometer: it scans your face, checks for a fever, then a green light flashes to welcome you in.
If you’re still nervous about eating out, this is a place to try. “This is the closest I’ve come to feeling normal,” said my companion, with a smile of relief.
You can eat cheaply at Bellanger. There’s a “Prix Fixe” menu with two courses at £10.95, including steak haché and a delice du chocolat.
I chose the “Menu Formule”, pictured, three courses and a glass of wine for £19.75. This kicks off with a divine cold tomato soup with swirls of green herb oil, then seared mackerel with mustard sauce and a celeriac remoulade.
Other specialties include schnitzel, coq au Riesling and tarte flambée, a sort of wafer-thin pizza that’s a speciality of Alsace.
The restaurant was heaving on our visit, even at 4.45pm. But that was in August. Let’s hope it thrives this autumn as people return to cherish a place they thought they had once lost.
For locals, Bellanger is a West End dining experience on their doorstep. For the rest of us, it’s well worth the journey – even on public transport.
9 Islington Green, N1
020 7499 6776