By the husband (Gary Pearson)
Subtly tucked away amid the quirky row of niche shops in Leigh is an absolutely charming little French restaurant.
La Belle Epoque is delightfully authentic and when you step inside you could be excused for thinking you had just stepped in from a bustling Parisian side street, rather than lively Leigh Road, such is the make-up of the place.
So much thought has gone into the decoration creating a lovely intimate atmosphere, perfect for a romantic evening.
And the welcome is something special too. Owner Benoit has bags of charisma and is so friendly, informative without being at all irritating. He knows when to have a chat and when to leave you alone to enjoy your food.
Benoit, who hails from Marseille, proudly tells us how he does his fair share of cooking, while running the place with his cousin and employs two top quality chefs and often is front of house too.
On a chilly Thursday night he showed us to our seats. There’s only about ten tables and a limited choice of mains and starters. It’s refreshing this way, all too often the agony of choice can keep me menu browsing for far too long.
The menu, which changes every three months, is succinct and packed full of patriotic punch. Despite the eight starters and mains it still took me an age to decide. It was the Soupe de Poisson (Fish soup) which came out on top, and it was an incredibly salty and a bit of struggle for me to be honest, it came with three small, chunky and rather crisp garlic bread, one topped with a sprinkling of cavier.
Katy’s Saucisson de Lyon et pommes chaude, consisted of coarsely cut, incredibly flavoursome sausage with thickly cut, waxy, herb covered potatoes.
My heavily pregnant, (and baby-to-be!) absolutely loved it, I managed to grab a nibble but that was it.
Benoit had been talking up the duck, aka Confit de Canard pommes Lyonnaise. He said it was the signature dish – and those who tried it fell in love with it. Big statement.
So, Katy went for it, I opted for the Casserole de boeuf au vin Bourgogne, if you haven’t guessed (or speak French) that’s a beef casserole with plenty of splashes of red wine. It was a hearty concoction, packed with ample mushrooms, carrots and shallots.
Very filling, warming and satisfying. So what about the duck? Well, that didn’t disappoint either. It fell from the bone and was super moist with a lovely, crispy skin.
Interestingly, it came with a raspberry vinegar which worked well with the sweet, succulent meat. Benoit was right to be proud of this dish.
To finish off it was creme brulee, my favourite, for me. I have to say the vanilla custard insides slightly burnt my mouth. Once it all cooled down it was fine, although the top was a little burnt too. Katy went for Chocolat Fondant and was soon raving about its gooey centre, encouraging me to try, which I did and didn’t regret.
La Belle Epoque, is French for beautiful era, and it felt like something of an age dining here as we arrived at 6.30pm and didn’t leave to almost 10pm. I like that. I can’t stand those places which give you time slots, that’s not what dining’s about. Your table should be your table for the evening.
Absorbing surroundings, excellent service and decent food. I think once baby is settled in, Katy and I could well be back here for a summer-time date night. Providing we can get a baby sitter of course!
La Belle Epoque, 92 Leigh Rd, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex: 01702 478477