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Cat Johnson opts for the simple things in life

Published on May 1st 2008.


I love food. All food, I don’t discriminate. And I’ll try anything once - she who dares wins and all that.

The same easy going, relaxed service and environment still presides and it does affordable, no muss, no fuss cuisine in a way that the Café Rouges of this world can only aspire to.

Mostly I love to see chefs having fun in the kitchen. The current crop of culinary chemists have opened us up to a whole new world of dining. After a trip to Juniper last summer I was left in awe at how Mr Kitching could make such random flavours as chocolate, beef and beetroot come together so exquisitely on one plate. But sometimes, (well most of the time if I’m being honest) I don’t want to go on a gastronomic journey, I just want fresh food, cooked well and served efficiently.

Also, in a point not to be overlooked, I’m a single mother in possession of a five year old with a serious trainer fetish so Juniper is not always in the Johnson price range. But this matters not, because apparently rustic cooking is very 2008. Take for instance the recent comments made in the Telegraph on Saturday by revered food critic François Simon, who writes for Le Figaro.

He was commenting on the recent opening of Gordon Ramsay’s haute cuisine restaurant in Versailles. "I like Gordon Ramsay's cooking very much. It's very fine, agreeable with lots of energy, open and accessible, but quite frankly, if I go to Versailles, I'd prefer to go to a local bistro." Right on Monsieur Simon. It doesn’t always have to be about fancy Dan cooking that’s so leftfield it makes your head and palette spin.

Sometimes it can just be about freshly cooked crusty bread with a chunk of Brie, some cold cuts and a glass of dry white. Now I’m sure he intended his comments to be interpreted in a much different way; me thinks he was making a snide pop at this Anglo invasion of his city, but his point is sound. Sometimes you just want simple grub.

With this in mind I moseyed on down to Francs in Altrincham this week. Having dined here in 1999 BC (before children) I was interested to see if they’d retained the same high standards of relaxed, good service and appetizing French Cuisine. The décor doesn’t disappoint. Scrubbed wooden floors, exposed brick and lots of natural light pouring through the windows gives it a warm, inviting feel. There are just enough accessories to make the room interesting without being fussy; if you squint a bit it’s just like sitting in a farmhouse kitchen in Provence.

The menu too is an exercise in simplicity with a decent range of classic French dishes and something to suit everyone. I chose the Saucisse de Toulouse (£5.75); served on a bed of puy lentils soaked in a very moreish red wine sauce. The sausage was dense, herby and coarsely chopped and as such - delicious.

My companion’s Fritot De Chavignol - goat’s cheese salad (£6.25) was pretty good too; a good quality cheese atop a bed of lightly sautéed Mediterranean veggies. It was all good, wholesome stuff.

Mains continued a winning trend. My Smoked Haddock with a Grain Mustard Butter Sauce (£15.25) was terrific, hearty stuff. Lovely, fluffy mash with greens running through it; a little bit colcannon-ish. The haddock was naturally coloured and flavoured giving off a delicate rather than synthetic taste and the flesh was firm and moist.

My companion’s Risotto de Champignons avec Coquille (18.50) was the ultimate comfort food. Sticky, creamy rice with field mushrooms offering a chunky texture and truffle oil imparting an intense woody flavour. The scallops snuggled amongst it were pan fried to a beautiful light caramel on either side and were lush. My lovely friend let me have two of them; I think I may have pushed my luck and the bounds of friendship if I’d asked for any more. We chose “Petit Chablis” (£22.45) to drink. The dry, flinty flavours standing up well to our fish and seafood choices.

My desert was a tad disappointing, the “Orange Crème Brulee” (£4.75) was the James Blunt of deserts i.e. bland, but ultimately inoffensive. The citrus flavour didn’t add enough excitement to the vanilla and I got bored two thirds of the way through, which is most un-Cat like. My friend’s White Chocolate Tart with a Citrus Sorbet (£4.75) was much better though. All the flavours worked well together, particularly the tartness of the citrus in the sorbet as it cut through the light creamy chocolate. There was none left at the end so we’ll let that speak for itself and my previously generous pal wasn’t for sharing this time. So I find myself thinking that this place is just as good as it was nearly a decade ago.

The same easy going, relaxed service and environment still presides and it does affordable, no muss, no fuss cuisine in a way that the Café Rouges of this world can only aspire to. The quantifiable proof of its success is the fact that it was very busy on a rainy Monday night at the end of the month.

When I’m not in the mood for fancy food, presented in a way that looks like they’ve got set squares in the kitchen to check for symmetry - I’ll choose Francs.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Francs
2 Goose Green Altrincham
0161 941 3954

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

dave the raveMay 1st 2008.

So catwhen you takin me out for dinner ??

mark mMay 1st 2008.

I agree. Francs has always been good value and rarely lets you down. Fantastic value too. With regard to the now sadly departed Juniper, that is a totally different experience. These type of restaurants are about pushing your senses,not going out for food

JevenMay 1st 2008.

Indeed Gastros has bitten the dust, tried calling them yesterday and they've gone.

AnonymousMay 1st 2008.

Francs catered for our wedding and did a fantastic job. Heartily recommend them!

scottie chorltonMay 1st 2008.

I totally agree with this article. I'd prefer to go to Francs 3 times for the same money as going to Juniper once.( Which is overrated in my opinion.)Most of the time I don't fancy Michelin starred food that shows how clever the chef is. Simple honest food using great produce is often more satisfying.

Mrs GMay 1st 2008.

Sorry you didn't enjoy the 'desert'. Too sandy for your tastes?

AnonymousMay 1st 2008.

Gastros has closed !!!!!!!!!!

KymMay 1st 2008.

I've been to Francs about 6 times over a three year period and my one criticism is that they took the cappucino creme brulee off the menu. It was one of the best desserts I'd ever had!

AlexMay 1st 2008.

I've been eating at Francs regularly for about 5years, it's my favourite restauraunt. Food, service, atmosphere, never failed me yet. Amazing.

Mrs SMay 1st 2008.

We have been going to Francs for over ten years and always enjoy the whole experience. The pace has not been commented on which we find Francs manage to get right, if you want to hurry they do that and if you spend two hours eating then fine they take care of you. We have the time and it makes a great day out going there by Tram from Bury. What do we miss, the Oysters plus the glass of Fizz they used to do, still their House Fizz is jolly good.

Mr TMay 1st 2008.

Pushing my senses, ok, but surely they should push them to deliciousland rather than the half way house of 'hmmm, well that's different'? I'm all for experimentation but any restaurant that's not about going out for food is destined to close very quickly surely?

RachelMay 1st 2008.

Made my first trip to Francs last night and i was a bit dissapointed after hearing great reviews. Had the set menu as it had dishes that were on the main menu which we both fancied. I had the prawn and crayfish cocktail (lame, not much dressing, the salad was browning round the edges) my partner had Sausage with puy lentils which was actually really nice. Main was lamb for me (fatty and a bit tasteless) with ratatouille (really nice) and dauphinoise pots (ok but about as much cheese on top as there was spuds underneath). It was ok for the price but if i had paid full menu price i'd have possibly moaned more.

AnonymousMay 1st 2008.

Dont ring gastros , I have just walked past and its gone

MarkMay 1st 2008.

Francs is definitley one of Manchesters best for overall quality, service and vaule. Much better than the likes of Milano's & Junipers etc. Im sure DC will agree that Sunday lunch is an absolute winner 15 gbp per head for 3 courses and kids under 6 eat free !!!!

NortherngeezerFebruary 7th 2010.

Went to Francs last night on the £25 Mancon offer and i wasnt disapointed.
The french onion soup was to die for, Mrs Geezer had the creole king prawns to start with scallops claiming the prawns were the best she'd ever had. I had the lamb for mains, cooked to purrfection, nice and pink with the fat caramalised. My other half had the duck for her main, slightly overcooked but thats a small critisism. The sherry trifle and the crepes were just above ordinary but not having a sweet tooth, i wouldnt order dessert normally anyway. A perfectly passable house chardonney was included in the deal and looking at the wine list, theres a good selection reasonably priced if thats not to your taste. If your looking for an above average 2 course meal, you couldnt fault it. In the immortal words of Sir Arnold of Schwarzenegger................"I'll be back".

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