I remember visiting friends in Paris a few years ago and although seduced by the contents of their local patisserie window, I knew I needed a cooked meal at some point and I had to find a restaurant that would be able to create a veggie meal for me. Pounding the streets to no avail with restaurateurs not being able to accommodate my requests (French food not renown for its veggie sympathies), we ended up at an Italian restaurant. As nice as that was, deep down I wanted a flavour of France, not something I could essentially get back home in abundance and at this point my mind was wandering back to the patisserie......
So, when chatting with the Le Truc Cafe team at the preview night of Birmingham's forthcoming #FutureFoodies event, they were telling me that they wanted to portray that although their restaurant serves French food, their vegetarian options are plentiful, encompass a Gallic flavour and go beyond the realms of predictability. To see for myself, I was invited to sample dishes from their old and new menus.
Independently owned, Le Truc Cafe is an eclectically decorated French themed restaurant on the edge of the Arcadian Centre in Birmingham. Located next to Hotel Ibis, in the triangle of where the city's Chinese Quarter, Theatreland and bar/club venues meet, it's centrally placed making it ideal for a pre-theatre/pre-revellery meal or as venue for coffees/lunch escaping the crowds of the nearby Bullring Shopping Centre.
|Le Truc Cafe|
When you walk into the Cafe, it provides a hint of the continental Parisian cafes that are depicted in films. Then you begin to notice the eclectic art on the walls and in the fittings. The more you see, the more you notice. Unique to the Cafe, the management have sourced French inspired pictures and photos from yesteryear, papier-mâché masks on the wall, spray paint art images, Scrabble tile words within the mosaic of the bar and the thing that caught my eye the most was the DJ booth decorated with cassettes!
|Cassette covered DJ Booth|
|View of Le Truc Cafe|
Guided round by Tim from the Management team he explained that people love to walk round the cafe post-meal and get acquainted with the art on display and it becomes part of their visit. To keep things fresh, every few months the team change some of the pieces and introduce new items which gives the cafe a new look without having the disturbance of a re-fit.
|Artwork on the walls|
The art theme continues through the table menus. Looking at the drinks menu, it looks like most drinks booklets you get, but scrutinise it fully and you'll see that it is in the style of a school exercise book! It’s packed with cocktail ideas, wine suggestions, an outline of forthcoming events and promotions. This only adds to the charm of Le Truc.
|Exercise Book style Drinks Menu|
|Inside the Drinks Menu|
My husband and two of our friends joined me for the meal and me being the only veggie in the party, I was interested in their thoughts of the food about to be served.
For our starter course, we were presented with a grazing board to share which included Goats Cheese Bonbons & Walnut Praline / Home-made Red Pepper Hummus with Cheese Straws / Fennel, Chilli & Coriander Slaw / Polenta Chips & Dip / Mixed Olives / Toasted Bread Slices / Asparagus Tips & Home-made Hollandaise Sauce. (NB: other grazing board items are available from the menu).
The asparagus in hollandaise was tender, yet crunchy and the sauce was rich and creamy - perfect for dipping the tips into. The polenta chips with aioli dip were delicious and with none of us being polenta fans usually, these herb crusted chips were truly tasty and lovely dipped in aioli - we were honestly converted. The crispy coated soft goats cheese bonbons came with a crunchy, crystallised apricot dotted walnut praline. The nutty base against the soft-sharpness of the cheese was totally moreish! The home-made red pepper hummus was speckled with slithers of red peppers. Made on site, it was tasty, fresh and the difference compared to shop-bought hummus was immense. Served with cheese straws, we couldn't get enough of it! The fennel, chilli and coriander slaw was lighter than the slaws on sale in the shops and although milder than its description, it was lovely spread on the toasted bread slices topped with a few of the mixed olives.
Grazing boards are the best way of being able to sample many of the menu's items in smaller quantities. A grazing board is fabulous for munching whilst enjoying drinks, say as part of a post-work drinks party, or coupled with the cafe's 2-4-1 cocktail offer and provides a wonderful elongated feasting event becoming a focal point as everyone tucks in.
Following the Grazing Board, we were given 4 main course dishes, effectively one each to sample. But in the interests of maximising our tasting session and to satisfy our respective curiosities, we all tried a little from each dish.
Artichoke Barigoule from the new menu is traditionally a French peasant's dish. The artichoke, carrot and onion combination was cooked in a vinegar/green pickle sauce made up of garlic, parsley, olive oil and cornichons. Surprisingly light, extremely tasty and not at all vinegary as anticipated. We all said that this works well as a main course but would also work well as a side dish to accompany other main courses.
Leek & Gruyere Crepes with Almond Beurre Noisette from the old menu were baked and served in a long dish. A rustic dish with almonds on top. A hearty dish, creamy, cheesey with added crunch from the almonds.
|Leek & Gruyere Crepes|
Celeriac & Potato Fritters were a mixture of mashed celeriac and potato, covered and fried in panko breadcrumbs served with a poached egg in hollandaise sauce and truffled oil cabbage. The panko breadcrumbs held a smokey flavour and the poached egg with hollandaise when drizzled on a forkful of fritter really lifted the dish. The cabbage was soft with lovely little hint of truffle.
|Celeriac & Potato Fritters|
Smoked Squash Mille-Feuille, Lord of the 100's Cheese, Sauce Vierge was an amalgamation of butternut squash within a mille-feuille (meaning 1000 layers) pastry case with spinach and sun-blushed tomatoes. The Sauce Vierge (meaning Virgin's Sauce) comprised of parsley, olive oil, coriander seeds and garlic, coupled with a pesto-esque pistu sauce of garlic, parsley and oil. Pastry was light and not heavy-based like typical pie coverings and the squash was sweetened by the sun-blushed tomatoes. The unanimous view was that it was an ideal main course for summer.
Moving on to the dessert menu, we enjoyed the Dark Chocolate Terrine. A rich, dense chocolate block sprinkled with home-made honeycomb pieces which worked well with ice cream.
|Dark Chocolate Terrine|
The Lemon Meringue Bombe was very zesty; the meringue was soft and was very flavoursome.
|Lemon Meringue Bombe|
Apple Tarte Tatin - a real French classic which was freshly made with soft caramelised apples and served with ice cream.
|Apple Tarte Tatin|
Creme Brulee - was indulgently creamy with a hard sugar crust and a gorgeously creamy after taste.
The whole package at Le Truc makes for a wonderful meal experience. The staff are fabulously enthusiastic and knowledgeable, making sure diners enjoy themselves. On the back of a recent Tweet, where a veggie diner stated that Le Truc had gone out of their way to ensure they had meals they were happy with, the management confirmed that they would be able to make veggie dishes on demand to suit the diner's preferences as their aim is to ensure the customer has an enjoyable dining experience. Backing up this statement, Andy Walker - Le Truc's Head Chef said: "Vegetarian food should challenge a chef's creativity. Anyone that thinks that slopping a bowl of risotto in front of a veggie is good enough seriously needs to address his or her imagination."
The open nature of the restaurant means that it can morph itself into a venue for coffee, lunch, pre-theatre/ post-work drinks or for a full celebratory meal. Special events organised by Le Truc and the 2-4-1 cocktails on Fridays create even more of a reason to go!
My friends and I loved Le Truc. Meat eaters as they are, having vegetarian food all evening, they commented that the quality and variety of the food meant they didn't miss the meat element of their meal at all! Praise to the Le Truc team! In agreement, we plan to return to enjoy more veggie inspired French fare and to see what new pieces of art we can spot!
Now that I know that hearty veggie French food awaits me at Le Truc, I won't need to daydream of that patisserie in Paris anymore.....
Le Truc Cafe will be exhibiting at the #FutureFoodies event in Birmingham on 26th June 2013 at Hotel La Tour. For details see link.
Disclosure: This post was written following a kind invitation from Le Truc Cafe to experience their vegetarian menu. This review was conducted with honesty, without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review. For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.