Golden Spoons Review: The Bistro

| 05/06/2016 | 21 Comments

CNS Business(CNS Foodie): As my companion and I drive up Seven Mile Beach on our way to The Bistro – the only French restaurant in the Cayman Islands – I can’t help but think that it’s remarkable we have a French restaurant at all. Cayman and France have so little to do with each other. We’re part of the “English-speaking” Caribbean; we have pubs, not bakeries. There’s nothing in our culture that draws us to French cooking. Only a company able to take some risks would open a French restaurant here, and that’s exactly what local caterers Mise en Place did in 2014.

The restaurant sits in the middle of the Caribbean Plaza parking lot across from Caribbean Club and overlooking a busy stretch of West Bay Road. Through the main entrance is a small reception room containing the bar and the washrooms, where you will be invited to wait (and drink) if your table is not ready. The bar faces the entrance and overlooks the indoor dining area (there is an outdoor terrace as well). With its natural wood and comfortable high chairs, the fully-stocked bar is a strong point, creating a stylish and contemporary atmosphere where a short wait for a table is more than bearable. On this occasion, the restaurant is not busy. Our table is ready and we proceed straight to it.

We are seated and given the menus and drinks/wine lists. Our table for two is on the small side but not too near to any others, and next to a window overlooking the parking lot (though as we visited for dinner, there wasn’t much to see). I order a glass of Chablis and my companion orders a cocktail called Watermelon Lush (which, he confirms later, tastes as described).

A first look at the appetisers available confirms the restaurant is not shy about its cuisine and makes a point of serving classics. I can tell that ordering will be a process of elimination. Steak tartare, escargots, and chicken liver pâté all make their appearances, with French onion soup and two salads to reassure the less adventurous. Specials included frog legs and a potato & bacon soup, which my companion ordered. I opt for the “Salade Bistro” of mixed leaves, tomato, radish, green beans, nicoise olives, shaved fennel, and cucumber with a Dijon vinaigrette.

For main courses, a few more bistro classics are on offer: confit duck leg, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, and of course steak frites (with a choice of cuts and sauces – something I have not seen at a bistro before). I go for the 6 ounce filet with garlic & herb butter, served with duck fat fries. My companion orders the boeuf bourguignon – an iconic and popular dish of beef braised in red wine that any bistro not only has to serve, but has to cook well. We also order sautéed mushrooms and spinach as side dishes, pushing the limits of our small table.

Our starters arrive about 10 minutes after some good complimentary bread and herb butter. My salad is generously dressed but not heavy; the dressing is just sharp and sweet enough to bring the ingredients together, and actually tastes of Dijon. The salad is chilled, elevating the crisp vegetables, but the plate is not, so I eat quickly. I’m reminded that the restaurant is owned by a catering company when I find precisely two olives. They’re supposed to be a briny check on the bitterness of the other ingredients. I know they go a long way, but how could two be enough? I shake my head as I eat. My companion finds his soup lighter than expected, but very tasty.

We are still hungry when our mains arrive. My steak is a little more than the medium rare requested, but is tender and flavourful nonetheless, with the lean cut getting a lot of help from the garlic & herb butter. The duck fat fries are moreish; not as crispy as I like them, but definitely a level above the fries served at other restaurants. I can tell that they will all be eaten. The salt and pepper grinders allow me to adjust the seasoning – always welcome. The mushrooms and spinach are cooked correctly, too. My plate is not heated, though, and I can tell that the food was not brought straight to our table as soon as it was ready, so again, I eat quickly.

So much for the steakhouse stuff: what about my friend’s boeuf bourguignon, the real test of the evening? It is a faithful rendition of the dish – all of the expected elements are present. But it fails to merit stronger praise. Nothing about it stands out for comment. Given the depth of flavour a braised dish like boeuf bourguignon can have, I’m disappointed that it wasn’t better (which is not to say that it was bad).

We are not asked if we want a second drink at any point during the meal, so I finally order a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon most of the way through my steak. I like restaurants not pushing alcohol on diners, but when the layout of the restaurant is such that your server is never walking past your table, the service has to be more attentive. The fact that our table is in clear view of the bar and most of the staff working that night tells me that none of them are watching our glasses. Why is it always the smaller restaurants that seem to struggle with getting this right, when it should be easier for them?

I survey the table and notice that our plates are clean, despite our quibbles. Normally, I would not have dessert in these circumstances, but I see that another bistro standard – crêpes Suzette – is on offer, which has to be assessed. I order it while my companion orders the crème brulée for a similar reason.

I don’t hear or see any flames leaping into the air before our desserts arrive (but the dining room is getting inexplicably warmer). The crêpes are certainly hot, sweet and remind me of orange, but they don’t taste of it. I also don’t notice any residual alcohol – no orange liqueur. For me, this is a key omission. The crème brulee, on the other hand, has the right flavour, but needed a few more seconds under the torch – the sugar shell did not have the all-important snap.

After some more conversation, we ask for and settle the bill. On our way out the door, the staff are more present than they have been all evening as they thank us for dining at the restaurant in unison. I leave satisfied, but a little irritated; the flaws with the food and the too-relaxed service have, ironically, stressed me out. I will return, but not in a hurry.

Gratuity: 15% added to the bill.

The Bistro website

Readers’ rating of The Bistro:

Category: Golden Spoons Review, Good Food. Bad Food.

Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Well they only lasted two years so I guess I didn’t miss anyting.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I take that back. Found it. But why isn’t it on the list below?

    CNS: Which list? I’ve just explained a number of ways to get to the category archives, where all the reviews are listed in reverse chronological order? If you are talking about the most recent reviews list on the left hand column (the number is set to to six) I have now changed the title from “Good Food. Bad Food.” to: “Most recent reviews below (click here for GSR archives)”. I’m really trying here. Is there anything else I can do to make it clearer?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a question for CNS if you dare post it (which you won’t): why have you taken down your review of Calypso Grill? Are you going to replace it with another, friendlier, review? And if so, will the other restaurants you have reviewed get the same treatment?

    CNS: I normally automatically delete any comment that we are “dared” to post. (See the Comment Policy). However, this one was so silly I made an exception. The review of Calypso Grill has never been removed from the site and nor will any of the others be removed. Why you think we would I’m not even going to guess at.

    There are several ways to get to it. You could use the search function on the menu bar; if you hover over the “Business Home” on the menu bar, there is a dropdown menu that includes the Golden Spoons Reviews; if you click on the title “Good Food. Bad Food” above the recent reviews on the left hand column, you will be taken to the category archives; same thing if you click on the link to the category at the end of every review; I have now also added a banner on the left hand column under the recent reveiws that is clearly marked “Golden Spoons Restaurant Reviews Archives”. Calypso Grill is still on the first page but eventually you might have to click to the next page to find it. Happy hunting!

  4. Gordon Ramsay says:

    It is a pity that restaurants in Grand Cayman generally make concessions to American tastes regardless of what style of cooking they purport to offer. Yes the French do eat soup and salad but, as another contributor points out, not as ‘appetisers’.
    What about all of the Italian-style restaurants, how do they fit into the reviewers concept of what type of eating establishment is appropriate to the Islands.
    The French do cook a ‘bifftek’ better than any other nation, but, as anyone who has eaten in France will know, a properly cooked steak should have blood running from it. If you want it spoilt by being cooked all the way through, ask for ‘brulé’.

    I wasn’t even aware of the Bistro; now I shall give it a try!

    • Anonymous says:

      We have all been wondering what a good steak might be like. I’m sure the Bistro can barely contain their excitement at the prospect of your upcoming visit.

  5. Mountain Chik'n says:

    Unless you are from Monserrat, eating imported amphibian parts is just plain bourgeois.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Best restaurant on the island. Period.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The writer clearly says the food was good but not spectacular and mentions specific faults. I’ve eaten at the bistro and I find this article fair, it covers good and bad points, everyone will have a different opinion on restaurants that’s what the comment section is for.

  8. Idiot says:

    I not what your writer is trying to say here. They say they had a problem with the food but don’t tell what was wrong with Thier meal.
    Surely your writer has been to other restaurants on the island and raised their hand to call the waiter to come over to order another drink.
    The only French resturant in Cayman? Wrong!!!

    I have visited the bistro several times and had very good service and food, the price is right and I love it there.

    I am not sure your writer has even been to france and eaten a a bistro.

    Once again, I beleive you are not giving a true write up on an establishment, as it appears to me the only 2 places on island your writers like is Morgans and Grand old house!!! Very biase writing and journalism..

    Also why don’t your writers go to a resturant that the majority of your readers have lunch and dinner, not high end places. Oh I know the reason, there will be complaints the food is to spicy, they don’t eat cow foot, Oxford tail, curry chicken, and of course turtle and lastly they couldn’t get an expensive glass of wine!!

    CNS: Your review of our reviews appears to biased. If you check back and actually read some recent reviews, you’ll find that both Eats and the food truck had good ones. Certainly not high-end and not a glass of wine in sight. We will, in time, cover all the restaurants. We’ve only just started this.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Idiot”… you say the writer isn’t giving a true write up on the establishment”– why do you say that?? Because it’s not the same view that you have of the Bistro?? Do you even understand the concept of a review? It’s not always positive, not always negative and sometimes it can be both! And of course they could have gotten up and asked someone for another glass of wine… but that’s not the point of doing a review, now is it?!?! The point is to showcase what happened while they were dining!

      I apologize but I must point out that you have a hard time with the “I before E except after C” rule (their) (believe)– you’re welcome!

  9. Resident says:

    The unintrusive service is a relief compared to other restaurants in Cayman, the Bistro gets this just right and your reviewer could have raised his hand for another glass of wine. Perhaps it was a quiet night, what a pity the warmth and buzz of the Bistro was lost on the reviewer, it adds a lot to the enjoyment of this unpretentious French food, as served in most French bistros.

    • Anonymous says:

      You must be one of the people who goes in a group of 10 and causes every other table’s food to come half an hour late.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “The only French restaurant in the Cayman Islands” and “there’s nothing in our culture that draws us to French cooking” – who writes this crap? Mise en Place is not French? The Brasserie is not French? Blue is not French? Lola is not French? This is a cheap and cheerful Bistro, not L’École Escoffier of French Gastronomy. A restaurant reviewer ought to know the difference.

    • Anonymous says:

      But this is the Cayman Islands. It’s not good enough to say ‘we’re so French, relax while we let the A/C cycle off in this 90 degree weather, and quench your thirst with your empty glass. You’re in Paris now!’ Come on.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s patently bizarre to state, “it’s remarkable we have a French restaurant”, when Eric Ripert, creator of the Ritz Cayman Culinary team and Blue, has been the headline draw and the actual host of the Cayman Cookout for nearly a decade. Add to that the many other restaurants/caterers that identify with the French tradition past and present (Brasserie, Lola, Guy Harvey, Mise En Place, ICOA, Blue Cilantro, Periwinkle, Over the Edge, Ottmar’s – forgive me if I’ve missed others). It makes one really question if this reviewer knows the recent history of the Cayman Islands culinary landscape and/or their qualification to speak for the tastes of residents and visitors.

        • Anonymous says:

          None of those restaurants serve classic French dishes as the entirety of their menu. French chefs, French cooking techniques, French words on menus – these things do not count, they are just reflections of the influence of that country on the art and craft of cooking. Brasserie right now is serving farm and sea to table, organic revolution cuisine driven by what they can find locally – coconut oil, not duck fat. Lola, admittedly, borrows a lot from the bistro concept, but how many times has that place changed its menu? It’s not a ‘French restaurant’ – it’s a cafe that’s currently trying something out. Harvey’s certainly has the French tradition – but, alas, no coq au vin, so, IT DOESN’T COUNT AS A FRENCH RESTAURANT. ICOA serves an eclectic menu most of the time, Asian street food Tuesday and Saturday night and Indian on Thursdays. Blue Cilantro is a fusion between Indian and Caribbean – yes they do some French things but that’s not surprising, again, because it’s a restaurant. Periwinkle is ITALIAN. They imported a chef from a specific region of Italy who changed the entire menu. Before that, it was expensive poolside lunch food designed for American tastes. No frog legs. Over the Edge…just look at their menu, and, come on, it’s Over the Edge. And Ottmar’s is closed, so hardly falls within any list of currently open, currently French restaurants.

          The bottom line is, if you ask the Bistro ‘are you the only guys doing it like this?’ they will tell you ‘yes we are!’ And if you ask any of those restaurants you listed whether they are French restaurants they will tell you ‘no, many influences go into what we do’.

          What’s patently bizarre is the fact you can’t see this distinction. The Bistro is in a group of one.

          • Anonymous says:

            Your view of French cuisine seems a little limiting.

          • AnnaB says:

            Another “know it all” who knows nothing at all. Your belief that a restaurant must serve coq au vin or frogs legs in order to be a truly authentic French restaurant amuses me. You have obviously never been to France nor have you ever eaten true French food. Fortunately you are not a food critic as your very biased views of the above restaurants are the personal opinions of someone who thinks they know food and clearly doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Reviewing a French restaurant and having soup and salad for appetizers?

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