The French connection

Trout with ratatouille at Bistro Gautier in Harpenden.

Trout with ratatouille at Bistro Gautier in Harpenden. - Credit: Archant

I’ve been taking French lessons again, in an attempt to improve my rusty school French, which is how I discovered Bistro Gautier in Harpenden.

Guy, Liana and their father Mark Gautier, the team behind Bistro Gautier in Harpenden.

Guy, Liana and their father Mark Gautier, the team behind Bistro Gautier in Harpenden. - Credit: Archant

We meet each week there over café, and my French teacher kept telling me that the food is excellent, and that I really must try it. You may know Bistro Gautier as the old Amble Inn pub on Station Road; it has now been transformed into a modern French bistro by the Gautier family.

Siblings Liana and Guy Gautier set up the bistro with their father Mark Gautier last year; Liana explained that Bistro Gautier has always been a family-run business.

Mark was a classic French chef who worked at The Savoy and The Dorchester, and together with wife Corinne started a catering company specialising in French food, which is how Liana and Guy got to learn about hospitality. Liana explained that they loved working with their parents, cooking at events and festivals, including Glastonbury.

The family have lived in Harpenden for many years, and Mark and Corinne used to help run The Amble Inn in its previous guise as The Dolphin, so when it became available, the family jumped at the chance to establish a permanent base, and Bistro Gautier was born.

It is a true bistro, in that it has a very relaxed atmosphere, and you can pop in at any time of day, whether just for a drink or for a meal. Liana explained that it still very much a pub, and that they have lots of regulars who call in for a drink at the bar or head out to the garden. The menu starts with brunch, and continues through into the evening with a la carte.

I really like the exterior and interior of the bistro; it is light and modern, with a pretty, well-tended terrace and garden. The copper penny wall by the front door was Mark’s idea, and see if you can spot the sparkling lights in the ceiling too. The giant fairground-style sign outside looks fantastic and I imagine was inspired by their festival travels.

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I went in for lunch to try the prix-fixe menu, which is available midweek 12 noon-5pm, and must be one of the best deals locally: two courses are £10 and three courses are £13.

I had a delicious and generous bowl of cauliflower soup, flavoured with truffle oil, and a beautifully cooked piece of trout on ratatouille.

My glass of French Sauvignon Blanc was excellent. I took a French friend who is an excellent cook, and she explained that much of the menu was typical – she was pleased to see snails with dill sauce. Her starter of beetroot and avocado looked beautiful; there was a slight muddle as she had asked about gluten-free options, and her starter then came with toast, but replacement gluten-free toast was brought quickly.

The beef boulette (meatball) was good, although we thought it would have been lovely with my ratatouille. We didn’t want dessert, but enjoyed a generous pot of mint tea and a good espresso. Service is added to the bill automatically, which is a little unusual - I prefer to add it myself.

I want to go back and try the a la carte menu; the baked aubergine with caramelised lemon sounds lovely, and you will find French classics such as magret de canard, moules mariniere and poulet au citron, as well as many others. The Bistro is very busy at weekends, so do book ahead.

The brunch menu looks really good too, with mimosas, eggs on brioche, croque-monsieurs, omelette Arnold Bennett (in a nod to The Savoy), as well as cooked breakfasts. With the sun streaming in from the garden this would be a lovely place for a relaxed weekend brunch. Liana explained that they recently celebrated the Bistro’s first birthday outside with a barbecue and cocktail bar, and they plan to hold more events through the summer, so do look out for those too.

It is lovely to hear about a family-run restaurant in our local area, and the Gautier family have done a fantastic job of creating a welcoming and affordable bistro. It is a modern taste of France, right in the heart of Hertfordshire.