mulberry purse Le Pain Quotidien replaces Carluccio’s at Bicester Village but is it any good
When Carluccio’s burnt down in Bicester Village last year, the shopping fraternity mourned its loss. Where else could we go to refill and replenish, shopping bags splayed around our feet as we ate pasta and meatballs or sipped strong cups of coffee with an almond croissant thrown in for good measure?
We all assumed therefore, that the Italian Gods would simply refurb and reopen its signature blue and white doors once more to an increasingly appreciative audience.
While the building work went on, Soho Farmshop opened at the other end in place of the wonderful Thai Busaba (sister to Great Tew’s Farmhouse), offering lovely brunches and meals in a stripped back, American ranch style restaurant.
And yes I know that most locals have been priced out of the Bicester Village market and you need a million pounds and a stretch limo to even get a parking space there, but some of us still pop in for a present or a little scoot around Clarks is still there for school, teens love Jack Wills and Superdry, and there are always shoes to try on.
Startling me out of my comfort zone however came the news that Carluccio’s was never going to return, burnt to a crisp no doubt, beyond redemption, and that Le Pain Quotidien, who owns a big chain of bakery led cafes in New York and London was taking over the prime pitch instead. Mamma mia!
Of course I was there to try it our before you can say baguette, although baguettes are of course so old hat these days. Instead sour dough and rye bread have replaced my favourite French staple.
I still thought it a slightly peculiar choice considering Soho Farmshop is doing a rather similar thing, and Villandry is already a French based brasserie. I had hoped for something totally different.
But perhaps I had got it all wrong so pitched up for lunch with friends to give Le Pain Quotidien (daily bread) a go. And no I didn’t come home with two pairs of LK Bennett shoes, as yet unworn, which are still hiding in my cupboard, hidden from Mr Greedy’s prying eyes.
Beautifully decorated and perfectly nice, Le Pain still unnerved me, being a strange hybrid, that for me didn’t quite work. Neither brasserie nor caf, it’s trying too hard to be all things to all people, to cater for everyone at all times of the day, serving pies and salads and bread and cheese and cake and eggs, all at once so that the menu is bewildering and you’re not sure which way to turn.
What I mean is that a restaurant should know what it is from the start and guide you. It if doesn’t, it’s customers won’t know either.
So we tried a bit of this and that, avocado on toast (toe curlingly trendy at the moment, and not very French as far as I know, but on bread I suppose). Then a nice croque monsieur, a strange mix of breads on a board, a steak and ale pie with all the trimmings and gravy, a salad nicoise which was a bit earnest I was expecting some more exciting ingredients. And it was undressed worse than the Pope without his robe, and much less tasty. I had to ask for some and they brought me vinegar and olive oil. “Zut alore!”. Even I can rustle up a vinaigrette in a couple of minutes.
The tapas style board which came with an unexceptional variety of meats, not unlike that you’d get in a supermarket selection pack, arrived with slices of browning apple on it. The strawberry tart was better but the weird tapioca thing (organic chia seed coconut milk pudding in chocolate or vanilla) was like eating frogspawn, however fashionable it is.
It wasn’t cheap either. I know that if you’re spending 3,000 on a handbag, paying through the nose for what is essentially a pit stop might not even turn an immaculately coiffed ahir , but for us mere mortals it caused some sucking of teeth.
In short, while beforehand I would have met up with friends at Carluccio’s specifically and maybe done a bit of shopping if there was time, now I’ll eat at home because sadly Le Pain is more like a posh service station than somewhere I want to spend my time dining. However with such a captive and transient clientele to cater for, I’m sure it will do fine either way.