Bedford and Strand. I love the name of this place. It sounds like a tiny firm of decrepit private detectives, still using binoculars and cups with string. Bedford and Strand. Perhaps a lovely hand soap? Or a saucy burlesque double act. It is a bistro. In reality, its name is less fantastical and more pragmatic, as it sits on the junction of London’s Strand and Bedford Street.
I love the atmosphere: it’s like being allowed back in time to a particularly moody gentleman’s club but full of women too, so much better. The food, wine and staff were all white shirts and black aprons, very debonair.
The diners, however, were rosy-cheeked and bellowing. What a smashing combination. Imagine the lovechild of a tinkly Parisian cafe and the darts.
I was out to dinner for my friend Arch’s belated birthday. Full disclosure: we’d planned to go elsewhere but decided against two other places because they had ‘no booking’ policies.
This fashion is getting on my tits. I work nights and I’ve got a baby. My evenings out for socialising have to be bought now, with special precious guilt-coins, saved up over weeks. This was the very first one I’d cashed in since having the baby. If these places think I’d risk spending any of my hoovering time getting rained on in a queue then they’re chumps.
Our risk aversion paid off. We had one of the jolliest meals out in my recent memory. My booze tolerance was at a gloriously cheap, all-time low. Admittedly, that could have added to the other-worldliness of it all. We drank a wholesome 2012 Rioja, ‘Ondarre’. The sort of bold, round wine that lights a little bonfire in your chest. It was really lovely.
The menu was delightfully succinct which is always a relief on the choosing front when you’re short on time but burdened with an intense love of everything. There’s a ‘Menu Rapide’ where two courses are £16.50 or three for £19.50 but we weren’t famished enough for that. We all plumped straight for mains.
I had a pan-fried hake on a Toulouse sausage cassoulet. I nearly entitled this review ‘Fish and Sausage’ but I didn’t, because I wanted people to read it. I’m boggled, myself, but the dish worked. Hake is one of my favourite fishes to hoof. Its meat has a lot of chunk and integrity, even when it’s only just cooked, and it’s got such a lovely taste, albeit a delicate one. The skin was done to a perfect buttery, salty crisp and packed in all the more flavour.
The cassoulet was a powerhouse. Soft white beans filled out a tomato sauce which had been reduced until it was basically a solid. The chunks of sausage screamed with rosemary and garlic, which with the tangy, sweet tomato sauce were a triumph. A handful of lamb’s lettuce sat beside all of this for a mouthful of freshness and iron. What a proud, fulfilling dish.
All my friends’ din-dins were just as delectable. One had the pan-fried Suffolk chicken breast with glorious, juicy red onions and mushrooms. A different friend had the lamb. It came in a jus which, with the wine, makes my mouth stream to recall, it was so rich and delicious. Another had the onglet which was from, apparently, between the 12th and 13th ribs. For such a snappy menu, it seemed a comical detail to adorn us with. That came with its own trowel-load of chips and was a really fine, lean, molten piece of steak.
We felt treated and merry by home-time. Flushed with fine plonk and energetic, urgent conversation with dearest friends. What medicine enough for the soul, especially as I was a little frazzled by the fresh air of the being back in great outdoors at all. To have food, on top of that, which tasted like a tour round an old French farmhouse cookbook was a bonus. Care was taken, but no fuss made over the grub. For a meal with friends to lift the winter spirits, Bedford and Strand was just the ticket.
Bedford and Strand, 1a Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HH
Tel: 020 7836 3033
Open: Bar Mon – Fri 12pm – 12am, Sat 5pm – 12am; kitchen 12pm – 3pm, 5.30pm – 10.20pm.
Access: No step-free access. There are long, steep steps down into the restaurant and then it’s step free once you’re there, but there’s no wheelchair accessible toilet.