The last time I visited Britain was in the spring of 2018, well before anyone had heard of Covid, travel restrictions and negative tests. I have lived and worked outside the UK for the past 14 years, rarely visiting in that time, but still have family who live there. The purpose of my visit this time was primarily to see my parents, both of whom are getting on in years – but please don’t mention that to them!
My wife and I have spent the last 30 years or so within the hospitality industry so any chance we get to visit somewhere new is also an opportunity to check out what’s happening on the local restaurant scene. But for this visit my mother could not resist booking us a lunch at a French Bistrot – did somebody say, “selling sand to the Arabs”? We live and work in France and run our own restaurant here.
So it was that on a wet Thursday lunchtime we found ourselves going to Bistrot Pierre, established 1994. On a good day there is outdoor seating on the balcony that goes round this circular building situated on the promenade of Weston-Super-Mare, but we were unfortunate with the British weather, it was lashing it down. However, the view of the pier and out to sea is still worth it.
First impressions on walking in are good. You could believe you were in a French bistrot with some traditional signage and artwork and adverts for Ricard etc. One interesting sign sitting on the hostess station was that all staff are fully vaccinated and each has to take a lateral flow test before their shift – definitely a sign of the times but certainly reassuring. We were led upstairs to the Bistrot, downstairs is a café/bar, and offered a table in the window overlooking the pier. And then, for a while at least, it started to go wrong.
Run DMC’s “It’s Like That” at an inappropriate volume and a young waitress coming across asking “how are we today, guys?” All of a sudden this was more TGI Friday, which I used to love, than French Bistrot. There seems to be a training manual kicking around the hospitality industry in the UK that states that all young waiting staff must be overly informal with their customers and call them guys. Hang on a minute, this is a lunchtime in September, look around at your clientele, assess the average age and then ask if ‘90’s rap and calling everyone “guys” is the right image.
But before U2 had hardly started following Run DMC the fire alarms went off! In true British style, or French, we all sat there! It appears that a customer had inadvertently hit the fire alarm button next to the front door thinking it was an automatic door opener – despite all the fire notices surrounding it! Unfortunately, after some time it was evident that the system would not reset and we were asked to leave the restaurant and wait outside.
For anyone who has spent any time within the hospitality industry we all know that fire alarms are just some of the daily inconveniences we face and the staff at Bistrot Pierre were professional and understanding in their handling of the situation. After being allowed back into the restaurant the waiting staff offered to have recooked any food that had been left on tables when we had to leave. So, let’s talk about the food.
The signature dish of Bistrot Pierre is Boeuf Bourguignon, a classic French bistro favourite, which none of our party had. The menu certainly has a nod towards traditional French eating and includes a Prix Fixe menu for 2 courses and 3 courses at lunchtime.
French favourites such as Deep Fried Brie or Mushroom Fricassée as starters and classic Steak Frites, Salmon Nicoise or Duck Breast as mains. I had Prawns in Chilli and Garlic to start. Four good size prawns in a very tasty tomato based sauce with a good level of spicing and served with some bread. I followed this with an 8oz sirloin steak topped with a very French garlic and herb butter. I ordered the steak very rare (not blue) and it arrived à little shy of medium-rare, simply garnished with a bunch of watercress and some French Fries. Nice steak, good butter, thoroughly enjoyable. I skipped dessert, shared some of my wife’s Brownie and watched my father plough his way through an enormous Strawberry Pavlova!
There is a staffing crisis within the English hospitality industry at present which is not helping restaurants when it comes to building à team, either front of house or in the kitchen, and it is starting to show. If Bistrot Pierre can improve the service training and fix the music selection it could be superb. Don’t get me wrong, the service was very good but there is a need to develop those staff that they have and, hopefully, keep them for a while. Bistrot Pierre is a chain restaurant and they have several outlets situated throughout England and Wales.