Chabrot Bistro d’Amis takes its name from the French term ‘faire chabrot’, an ancient practice saved for times of great economic hardship, where peasants would refresh their bowls of soup or stew using the dregs from their glasses of red wine. I can’t imagine many of the well-heeled inhabitants of Knightsbridge Green, where Chabrot finds itself, staring into their diminishing stews and deciding to ‘faire chabrot’, but that aside, I find the restaurant to be a well judged and authentic stab at solid, fairly priced, bistro fare.
Knightsbridge Green itself seems a rather unconventional ‘green’. It’s more of an alley that houses several boutiques, a bar and a rather improbable looking Italian restaurant. Chabrot adds a certain higgledy-piggledy charm to this parade. As soon as we spot it, it reminds me of something from one of those bizarre animated French films – part of a handmade Parisian backdrop, bowing under a heavy load of striped tablecloths, generous wines and nostalgia.
We visit on a busy Friday and are welcomed in from the night with smiles and handshakes, before being led up the creaking staircase into the smarter, more reserved upstairs dining room. The walls are covered in black-and-white photos of peasants working the land or failing to work the land and drinking in bars. The tables are small, packed closely together and covered in bright, confident red and white cloths. The menu we’re handed comes in one large sheet, with food on the front and an extensive wine list on the back. The food is charmingly, comfortingly French. Not gimmicky, not a tourist’s idea of what French food might be like – this is food made by professionals who know what they’re doing.
We start with duck liver pâté served with a cheesy gougère. The gougère looks and feels like a big Yorkshire pudding and, once spread thickly with the accurately seasoned, warm liver pâté, makes one of the better starters I’ve tasted all year. Alongside the pâté we enjoy a long, thin platter of mixed charcuterie – grown up stuff. There are big, fatty folds of what looks like tête de veau, salty saucisson sec and rusty-looking slices of chorizo. Each piece is delightful, especially when taken with glasses of excellent Bourgogne Blanc from top producer Tollot-Beaut.
For our mains we stick with the gutsy, meaty dishes. Sarah gets in first and orders the dish that I’d read about and had already decided I wanted – cabbage leaf stuffed with veal, chestnuts, foie gras and ceps. The dish arrives in a covered cast-iron pot; once the lid is drawn back we inhale the deep, savoury aromas and smile. It’s a sublime dish of impressive precision: warm and giving with a deep, offaly flavour from the liver that combines with the vegetal qualities of the cabbage to provide something that feels timeless and authentic. My dry-aged sirloin of beef from O’Shea’s butchers is a textbook steak – rare, bloody and dripping with fragrant maitre d’hôtel butter that gets mopped up by hot crunchy chips.
Pudding choices are a little limited and by this point we’re stuffed and happy, Sarah bravely soldiers on and has rice pudding which is tasty, but in truth, a little much with its lashings of Chantilly cream. My lemon sorbet seems more appropriate.
Chabrot is a must for anyone who yearns for the glamour and charm of the Marais without leaving the bright lights of Knightsbridge. I didn’t see anyone ‘faire chabrot’, but at the eminently reasonable price point that Chabrot offers, perhaps we won’t need to.