Short break - Quite Simply French, Lancaster
- Credit: not Archant
An award-winning Lancaster restaurant has found room for improvement – literally. Roger Borrell went along to find out how.
Someone once had the bright idea of trying to convince the British public that all they really wanted to eat on a night out was Italian food, or what passes for it.
And they seem to have succeeded as just about every street corner in my town - and yours, I suspect - has a restaurant serving a mix of good, bad but mainly indifferent pasta and pizza. It's hard not to conclude that cheapness of ingredients and the ease of cooking them has much to do with the creation of this culinary clamour.
So when a restaurant calls itself Quite Simply French it immediately gets my attention. QSF, as it is known, is hardly a Johnny Come Lately. It has been on the go on Lancaster's historic quayside for 25 years but it's only recently I got to go, mainly because it's a bit of a hike for me.
Happily, distance is no longer an object because owner Robert Mason has built four stunning bedrooms on the top floor replacing what were once rather run down flats. It means you can now eat, drink and be merry without having to think about driving home.
I have it on good authority Robert broke the budget in quite spectacular fashion to complete this project to his satisfaction. It was worth every penny.
This was a complex job because QSF is based in a historic Grade II listed building - a 250-year-old customs house designed by a scion of the Gillow furniture making family. So the challenge was to create four outstandingly luxurious rooms while still playing to its obvious strengths as a building of great character.
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A quick tour of the rooms - named after local notables Ashton, Ripley, Gillow and Williamson - confirm no expense has been spared, as Robert's bank manager will confirm. Each is stylish with an air of opulence but without sacrificing the sensible stuff like having plug sockets in the right places.
The décor was down to Robert's imagination and it has brought rave reviews from guests, some of whom have asked if he will come and redesign their homes. He has politely declined.
Top the range linen and huge comfortable beds are standard here but each room has quirky features that reveal considerable thought in design and functionality. Some rooms feature striking Lincrusta, which has been made in Lancaster since Victorian times and is now much sought after by interior designers.
The Ashton is a suite with a retro teal settee where you can sit and watch the River Lune pass by. In one corner, is a lamp made from maritime chain recovered from the North Sea. The walls near the walk-in shower room have polished brass portholes and, up a flight of stairs on the mezzanine bedroom floor, you'll find old ships' propellers mounted as wall decorations. It's nautical but very nice indeed.
This area also has an unusual free standing egg-shaped bath, especially good for egg-shaped people like me. At Robert's insistence, the ancient beams have remained exposed and more reminders of the building's antiquity come in the form of the framed parchment deeds from the 1700s.
The dining room is on two floors and again mixes contemporary with antique. Modern button-backed leather clad booths in fashionable hues contrast with bare stone walls, tapestry-style wall hangings and monumental gilt mirrors.
While French is very much the accent on the menu which includes snails and frogs' legs, there are no heavyweight sauces smothering the dishes and certainly no Gallic shrugs from the staff, who picked up the customer service trophy in last year's Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards. They really are the business - efficient, fun and informative. They never miss a beat.
The kitchen matches them with confident inventive dishes such as goats' cheese crème brulee and tuna carpaccio. Meat forms a good chunk of the main courses with delicately cooked venison and top quality steaks given added oomph with additions such as bacon, mushroom and blue cheese gratin. However, there is plenty to keep fish-lovers happy and there are good-sounding vegetarian dishes such as black bean bourguinon.
We ate there on a damp Wednesday night and the place was buzzing, packed with happy looking diners. Its popularity means it is now extending into the late week and weekend lunch trade.
The philosophy at QSF is that people don't mind paying for fine dining so long as the food is top notch, the service exemplary and the ambience is memorable. Judging by the number of awards they are hoovering up, they've got it spot on.
* Roger Borrell was a guest of Quite Simply French, 27 St George's Quay, Lancaster, LA1 1RD. 01524 843199, quitesimplyfrench.co.uk