Bistro Pierre: what’s Birmingham’s new French restaurant like?

Cycling is the most French of sports – apart, of course, from the age-old pastime of blocking busy roads with the burning carcasses of sheep.

Thus it was appropriate that a bike race was taking place in Broad Street as I paid my first visit to the recently-opened Bistro Pierre, tucked away in Gas Street.

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Was I wowed by the place? No. Pleased? Mais oui, bien sûr!
There’s a sense hospitality about the place and a sense, too, that they’re trying to serve decent French food at a fair price.

The decor

First, heaps of praise on Bistro Pierre for the imaginative but respectful and sensitive way in which they’ve converted a gorgeous 19th century Grade II building that was once the headquarters of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company.
It’s an impressive doubled-fronted building that you’ll probably have been many times.
The restaurant is spread over three floors, with several discrete rooms.
All are furnished with contemporary restraint.

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There are French posters on the walls, but the most striking feature is the sense of lightness and space.
A roof-top terrace looks out over the canals of the Gas Street Basin and there’s a small enclosed courtyard.
It must be one of the loveliest restaurant buildings in the city.

The service

There seemed to be a small army of waiting staff scurrying between rooms and up and down stairs in a building that must be difficult properly to service.
But they were all charming, informed and efficient.

The food

The menus are many and various at Bistro Pierre, with set-price, a la carte, soirée gastronomique, breakfast and other options available.
Choosing from the a la carte menu, the shared tartes flambées was a very pleasant way to start dinner.
A thin and crisp pizza-like base was topped with creamy, melted cheese, sweet caramelised onions and smoked bacon lardons.

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It was thing that I’d happily eat again. And again. And again.
The poulet fermier de Normandie to which I progressed was a less persuasive dish.
The enormous portions of chicken that were served – there were two portions: the leg and breast had been separated – had a beautiful deep savoury favour.
But the slow-roasted poultry was rather overcooked and dry.

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This I’m willing to put down to a kitchen brigade settling in.
The salad leaves that accompanied the bird were fresh and well-dressed. The chips were fine.
Opposite there were no complaints about a bowl of boeuf bourguignon – a rich red wine stew with plenty of shallots, mushrooms and bacon.
Again this was served in a generous quantity.
Side servings of dauphinoise potatoes and vegetables were barely touched – not through lack of quality, but simply because the main courses were so substantial.

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For a similar reason I didn’t order a dessert – though I was sorely tempted by what seemed to be a Frenchified version of Eton mess: méli mélo de fraises et meringue.

The drinks

Big round of applause, please, for Bistro Pierre serving so many wines by the glass, carafe and bottle.
The Chinon – a Loire Valley red – that I drank alone was a fresh and peppery wine that, at £19.95 for a 500ml jug, seemed good value.
There are, obviously, beers, spirits, soft drinks, aperitifs and digestifs available, too.

Need to know

Expect to pay around £40 a head for wine and three courses from the a la carte.
Cut costs by checking out the two-course prix-fixe lunch for £10.95.
There are vegetarian and gluten-free options.
The kids’ menu costs £6.95.
The place is accessible for disabled people.

Bistro Pierre
46 Gas Street, Birmingham B1 2JT. 0121 616 0730.
http://bistrotpierre.co.uk/locations/birmingham