La Popote, Marton - Restaurant review

Our reviewer heads to a new French restaurant, La Popote in Marton. Is it as good as everyone says?<br/>REVIEW BY RAY KING

The establishment of a new French restaurant is such an unaccountable rarity these days that it really is an ‘event’ worth close investigation. For while waves of recent foodie fashion have ushered in scores of Thai, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese and Middle Eastern restaurants, not even counting the ubiquitous Chinese and Indian places and endless variations of quasi Italian cooking, la bonne auberge has been strangely thin on the ground.

Why is this? Millions of Britons head for France every summer and most of them cite the cuisine of Provence, the Languedoc, Dordogne and Normandy as a primary reason for doing so. I’m sorry I haven’t a clue.

So enter La Petite Ferme in the village of Marton on the main A34 between Capesthorne Hall and Congleton. The family-run enterprise, built around an open courtyard, comprises a farm shop, deli, coffee shop and most particularly, La Popote Restaurant. There’s just one thing: the Janssen family - Victor, Lynne, Yuri and Marcus - arrived in Cheshire not from France, but from South Africa, where between them they accumulated more than 80 years in the business, not least running a highly respected French restaurant in Durban.

La Popote presents a welcoming ambience as soon as one walks through the door; the snug, stone paved bar area sporting a beamed ceiling, warm bare Cheshire brick walls, a wood-burning stove, low tables and rustic chairs and lots of fresh flowers, though the effect isn’t remotely chintzy. There are a few neatly set tables here too; the remainder being in a separate dining area.

Head chef Marcus Janssen’s menu – inspired by son p�re Victor – left us spoilt for choice from starters to desserts; we could have eaten anything and everything. But, reluctantly leaving aside opening temptations like goats’ cheese and beetroot tarte tatin; braised Old Spot belly pork; tortellini of oxtail casserole; seared scallops and confit duck leg salad, I eventually chose Cornish white crab mousse with hot and cold smoked salmon (�6.95).        

Mrs K decided on prawns served ‘a l’escargot’ (�7.95) – a dish apparently invented by Mr Janssen senior during the days of the trade embargo against South Africa when snails were not available. Instead it was plump, delicious tiger prawn tails that were nestling in pools of garlic butter in the special escargot dish. It became an instant hit in Durban. ‘No wonder,’   said Mrs K, licking her lips. My crab mousse was equally delightful, rich and creamy and enveloped in top-notch smoked salmon, topped with avocado pur�e, which I spread on fingers of crisp focaccia.

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The main courses like halibut in vermouth, tournedos of Alan Jackson’s Alderley Edge Aberdeen Angus and roasted breast of guinea fowl presented more difficult choices. But I’d read in Cheshire Life’s ‘meet the chef’ feature that if Marco Pierre White walked in, Marcus Janssen would serve him medallion of Scottish venison on   Maris Piper rosti with seared foie gras, blackberry and thyme jus. And there it was on the menu for �21.95; all I can say is that I reckon MPW would have enjoyed it as much as I did.

There was an admirable confidence about the cooking; every single component of the dish – including the sprig of fresh redcurrants - was relevant and presentation was exceptional. Blondie opted for herb-crusted rack of Highland lamb with potato gratin, braised baby fennel, confit lamb   wanton, minted pea pur�e and rosemary and redcurrant jus (�19.50); first class ingredients, expertly combined, cooked and presented. A bottle of 2008 R�mi Jerome Merlot from the Languedoc (�14.95) from a well-chosen, moderately priced list on which South African whites offer particular value, proved an admirable accompaniment.

We rounded off in style with a superb valrhona chocolate fondant, berry compote and white chocolate cappuccino for her (�6.25) and an equally delicious Cox’s apple tarte tatin with vanilla pod ice cream and saffron honey for him. La Popote Restaurant, Church Farm, Manchester Road, Marton, Cheshire SK11 9HF. Tel: 01260 224785

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