Lauren Eads heads to Corbin & King’s Alsatian enterprise in Islington for gooey pomme aligote, platefuls of Coq au Riesling and lashings of rosé.
The concept: A French restaurant and brasserie on the edge of Islington Green from the masterminds behind Brasserie Zedel, The Wolseley and Fischer’s. Corbin & King’s 200-seater restaurant opened in 2015, in the site formerly occupied by Browns, and takes its name after the 1920s French car manufacturer Société des Automobiles Bellanger Frères. For reasons unknown, Corbin & King has a tradition of naming their restaurants after carmakers, such as The Wolseley (Wolseley Motors), The Delaunay (Automobiles Delaunay-Belleville) and Colbert (Colbert Auto). With the same winning formula running through its veins that has made so many of Corbin & King’s ventures a success, (good value, a solid concept and sense of occasion) Bellanger is approachable and unpretentious, with a distinct Alsatian flair and a fleck of 1920s Paris.
The décor: Taking inspiration from 1920s Paris, Bellanger is a pleasantly lit time warp resplendent with a polished brass bar, well upholstered booth seating and mirrored walls, dotted with decorative trinkets from the era. It’s posh, but in a familial manner, making use of white tablecloths and silver service, but never so formal that it becomes stuffy. Its convivial atmosphere will be familiar to those that have frequented any of Corbin and King’s other restaurants, all of which have a way of making you feel at home, while maintaining a sense of occasion.
The food: Offering a crash course in Alsatian cuisine, Bellanger’s kitchen is headed up head chef Dalmaine Blignaut, a South African native who joined the team from The Delaunay. A clear seam of sauerkraut, Gruyère and smoked meats run through much of its crowd-pleasing menu – a nod to the Alsatian roots of the original Parisian brassieres. There are lighter options on the menu, like the fresh and zesty crab and avocado salad (£14.50). It was a refreshing start to proceedings, and thoroughly virtuous. But let’s be honest, salads are not what the French do best. Better to leave your diet at the door and pile head first into a plate of chicken liver parfait with red onion marmalade (£9.75), steak tartare (£9.50), maybe with a side of French fries, or one of Bellanger’s signature Tarte Flambées (from £6.75) – a glorious wafer-thin meat-laden ‘pizza’ and a speciality in Alsace.
As at the ever-reliable Brasserie Zedel, Bellanger offers a handsomely good value prix fix menu, with three courses just £16.75, but alas, it is only available until 6.30pm daily. Pick carefully through its menu and you will find good value. The confit duck at (£14) was a solid hit, as was a warming pot of Coq au Riesling (£17), served in traditional crockery. Had I been dining at lunchtime, the chicken schnitzel sandwich (£8.75) would have been top of my list, as would a plate of eggs, which are done all ways, from Benedict and Portobello to Arlington and avocado. A second visit is required.
Richly fed, and reminiscing about how good we Londoners have it, we ended the night with a tarte au citron meringue (£4.95) and a café gourmand (£6.50) – a king of miniature afternoon tea featuring that subsumes early grey for an Americano, as we made our way back down the northern line.
Signature dishes: Coq au Riesling (£17), served with a steaming side of pommes aligot – a gooey, oozey cheesy mash (£4.50). On a cold autumn evening the Choucroute a l’Alsacienne, a warming pot of salted and smoked pork belly, ham hock and frankfurter, served on a bed of pickled cabbage, is heaven. But for a real taste of Alsace go for the tarte flambé, or flammekueche – one of the most famous specialities of the Alsace region. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not a dessert, more an Alasatian thin-crust pizza fired in a wood oven, topped with dollops of fromage blanc, onions and smoked bacon and then baked. Bellanger offers two varieties – an original ‘Alscacienne’ and a ‘Chèvre, Miel et Thym’.
The drinks: Behind the bar is Johnny Ruberti, whose dapper team will whip up a number of classic cocktails on demand while you wait for a table, although the restaurant is deceptively large, with a secondary dining room to its back, that you likely won’t be waiting for long. Better to arrive half an hour before your booking and soak up the old-world atmosphere at the bar. Beer on tap comes from real-life Alsace brassiere and brewer Meteor, based in the village of Hochfelden. France’s largest independent brewery, it’s been turning out tarte flambées since 1640, and brews beer using local hops and water from the Vosges mountains.
This summer the team launched a rosé wine list, enticing guests to make use of its pavement terrace, which overlooks the green. Ayala Rosé Majeur NV is available by the glass, as well as a pretty Provence rosé from Domaines Ott, capped off by a bottle of Bollinger Rosé NV (£95 a bottle). Its main wine list is nearly entirely French, with Domaine Schlumberger featuring heavily, alongside fellow featured producer Domain André Dezat from the Loire. Producers from the Alsace are well represented, as you might expect, and include Bruno Sorg, Domaine Weinbach, Albert Mann and Frédérich Mochel. It’s a well-honed and interesting list, albeit fairly safe, with a seemingly rogue bottle of Camel Valley’s Atlantic Dry, from Cornwall. 500ml carafes are available for all wines sold by the glass, which account for around half of all wines listed.
Don’t leave without: Propping up at the bar for a pre- or post-dinner beverage. Sit back and enjoy the mellow tinkling of the ivories, which ring out from the bar every evening courtesy of a suited gentleman.
Last word: More than just another feather in C&K’s cap, Bellanger has its own identity and sense of purpose, but is reassuringly familiar. It treads the tricky line between feeling like an independent restaurant and a chain, which some will find endearing, others irritating, and with so much choice, it’s easy to go elsewhere. If however you are looking for an elegant and dependable outpost, among an increasing sea of restaurants that dot the main high street from Angel, you can’t go far wrong with Bellanger. It might not be trying to reinvent the wheel, but its charm, reliability and commitment to capitalising on the classics is what makes it so appealing.
Bellanger, 9 Islington Green, London N1 2XH, Tel: +44 020 7226 2555