I first sighted the new Bistrot Pierre on a saunter down Preston’s Fishergate on a Saturday afternoon and was amazed by radical upgrade it brought to the tired stretch of the city centre.
The former Fishergate Baptist Church, a beautiful building that had fallen into dilapidation, has been fully refurbished and is now a smart addition to the high street, adding a buzz of city grandeur to the shopping street with its mix of once grand buildings intertwined with largely chain stores and banks.
It was a sunny day and diners were enjoying a bite on bistro tables on the terrace - a welcome sight more reminiscent of the bigger cities.
The renovations and work to transform the old chapel into a sympathetically modern version of itself has undoubtedly been a huge success.
The former church’s iconic clock has been restored and actually tells the right time for the first time in years - its frozen state was previously a telling sign of the building’s semi-abandonment.
With its elegant interiors and trendy additions, it has been transformed into a buzzing, modern, eaterie and judging by the advance notice I needed to make a booking online,the buzz extends to its popularity.
The fresh new offering to the city centre’s gastronomic scene has clearly been embraced. It’s new and it’s hot.
But is it any good?
I booked a table for two several weeks in advance for 8pm on a Saturday night. On arrival there were customers spilling through the doors of the grand building, which was brightly lit in the gathering darkness of the evening, offering a glimpse of diners through the windows.
We pushed through the door, barely able to get in due to the crowd beyond the doors, gathering in the area next to the huge bar which a glitters under the stylish lighting. Despite this we were met quickly by a smiling member of staff who ushered us to our seat on the ground floor of the packed restaurant, despite being a few minutes early.
This is where we were a little unlucky.
We were placed right next to the serving station and the bar, at a tiny bistro table right at the top of the stairs where punters walked past, unsteady after a few wines, and where young, slim, waiters and waitresses shook past, with enormous French-style round black trays balanced precariously on their shoulders, laden with multiple dishes of albeit delicious-smelling food.
I cowered on several occasions, exchanging worried looks with our tables neighbours, amid visions of a shower of French cuisine as the table wobbled worryingly with each passing person.
I would highly recommend asking for a booth or to be seated on the balcony where you will not end up fearing you might wear the stylishly presented food.
We ordered a decent bottle of French red (£16.95) from a decent wine menu to accompany our Saturday evening as we perused a mouth-watering menu with something for everyone.
I then asked the million dollar nut question - I have a serious nut allergy - and I’m pleased to report that after a delay, smiling and helpful staff checked and advised thoroughly without making me feel that it would be easier if I left (often the case).
We ordered from the a la carte menu -there are set menus and breakfast menus available at other times of the day or week making it accessible for all budgets. To start I ordered the Fritôt de Brie.
At 5.95 this was a deep-fried Brie in a crisp rosemary crumb, with dressed leaves and plum chutney.
It was delicious and critically, quite light - just enough to start the juices flowing freely.
Meanwhile, my dining partner (DP) opted for the Calamars.
Priced at £6.50, this was lightly spiced crispy fried squid with garlic aïoli. It vanished almost immediately and was thoroughly enjoyed.
For mains, I ordered the Poulet de Normandie (£14.50)
This was an absolutely mouth-watering half a slow-roasted Normandy chicken, served with roasted garlic and parsley butter, dressed leaves and crispy pommes frites. The chicken melted in my mouth.
Meanwhile, DP ordered chicken as well in the form of Poulet chasseur priced at £13.95.
This was a pan-fried chicken breast in a classic chasseur sauce of mushrooms, thyme, concassé tomato and red wine.
This proved tasty and filling but not enough to put off dessert.
DP ordered a Délice au chocolat (£5.75), a chocolate brownie with warm chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream.
We left full but happy - the bill came to £65.80.
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Check out Bistrot Pierre HERE