In these trying times it’s inevitable that restaurants will be hit hard. That’s the reason we’re seeing endless numbers of cheap “credit crunch” lunches and two-for-one meal offers. On Sunday Pierre Levicky took the concept one step further by offering completely free food at his Chez Pierre restaurant. It was little wonder the restaurant was reservations only and only those lucky enough to have seen Pierre’s scribblings stuck in the window of his restaurant had their names on the reservation list.
Pierre Levicky is probably best known for his Pierre Victoire chain of restaurants, which at its peak spanned some 100 locations. Some may argue about the self proclamation of “the genius entrepreneur”, which inhabits the “About Pierre” section of his website - the Pierre Victoire chain spectacularly collapsed with debts of over ¬£10 million. For his part in this Pierre Levicky was banned from being a director of companies for 13 years. Judging by the advertising driven paper placemats in Chez Pierre, he seems to have spent some of his time in the wilderness writing books.
In February last year Pierre marked his return to Edinburgh with the opening of Chez Pierre on Eyre Place. The main competition, Duck’s, has subsequently waddled off to Aberlady leaving Chez Pierre alone, right in the middle of an affluent catchment area. The ground level of Chez Pierre hosts the main dining room which is simple, compact and charming. There is another room downstairs, which can be reserved for private functions.
So what of the free food? Our starters of well dressed leaf salad, succulent prawns in a tomato based sauce and p√Ęt√© were simple, yet fresh affairs. Even for free it might have been polite to provide at least one prawn each though and it would certainly have benefited from the bread arriving a little earlier. Still beggars most definitely cannot be choosers!
My main of skirt cut steak, usually found in Cornish pasties and fajitas, was perfectly cooked and rather tasty courtesy of the onion based sauce. The green beans were also delicious, although I couldn’t help but wonder if the deep fried sea bass the rest of our table were tucking into had been served with something green earlier in the day - nothing looks unhealthier than just deep fried fish and chips on a plate. The sea bass was decent, although the swathes of skin under the batter soon became irritating. Both free dishes were served with chips and proved beyond doubt that Pierre can cook his pommes frites.
With only a glass of wine and a few bottles of beer on our bill, we went for some paid for desserts. My chocolate eclair (just ¬£2) was indulgent, although there was no need to drown it in chocolate sauce. A similar drowning fate had met the selection of crepes (¬£3.90 each). And the crepe was lukewarm, perhaps even cold. Surely not acceptable for a French chef, no-matter how demanding the day!
Given the waiting staff had served some 200 covers by the time of our visit, it would be impossible to fault the often haphazard, yet lively and warm, service we received. During our meal the Peroni beer and subsequently Cobra beer ran dry. I dare say Pierre Levicky’s income would have been higher if the fridges hadn’t emptied prematurely.
On the basis of our free food night I’d not rush back to Chez Pierre, but something suggested this event was more for the benefit of Chez Pierre’s regular customers rather than an effort to attract many new customers. Basing an opinion on free food alone would be unwise. With such warmth and peculiarity it’s easy to see why Chez Pierre has become a neighbourhood favourite. And fortunately I had the absolute pleasure of eating the best Christmas lunch I have ever had at a restaurant, in Chez Pierre, last December. The brioche with salmon, swathes of turkey with all the trimmings and chocolate square with red fruit would take some beating, even if Father Christmas himself got behind the stove. Definitely the best value I’ve ever had for ¬£14.50. And many friends have waxed lyrical about Chez Pierre’s ¬£6 lunch.
Chez Pierre is an original, interesting and, at all times, affordable restaurant.