Food review: The French Connection, Stourbridge
Stourbridge High Street can be a pleasant place to wonder around on any given day.
On a Friday, it's particularly lively, with plenty of independent shops, restaurants and bars offering the perfect place to take the weight off, meet up with friends and family – or even to start the Friday night fun a bit early.
Once place that really stands out is the French Connection Bistro, and I was lucky enough to try the place out with my wife, Kelly, while enjoying my birthday.
We don't tend to venture into Stourbridge that often and it's even more rare we get to spend the afternoon together while our three-year-old daughter, Annabelle, is at nursery.
But the opportunity of enjoying some lovely French food was too good to miss – so the cinema idea was binned in favour for some top grub and fine wine.
Pretty much everyone has tried French cuisine at some point in their lives, but I was a French restaurant virgin.
One thing I can say, however, is entering French Connection is like being teleported from the hustle, bustle of a busy Black Country town, into a rustic, homely and cosy restaurant sat in the middle of a village in France.
I had visions of how it might look and venue was exactly what I'd hoped for – quiet, quaint, well laid out, plenty of space and the right amount of privacy. There was also some nice French background music too.
Each meal is individually prepared using ingredients that have usually been freshly delivered each day.
The chef has more than 22 years experience and all the food is served straight from the pan to your plate.
The menu, as you'd expect, was wide ranging. Some of it was very reasonable while other options were pretty pricey, which is what you'd expect when ordering something like lobster.
There was also a lunchtime menu too, which changes according to the season and the availability of ingredients.
Any food intolerance or allergy issues can also be catered for if staff are informed before placing an order.
As it was a lunchtime meal and we didn't fancy anything too heavy, we opted for the three courses for £14.95 – served noon to 2.30pm – which was a very reasonable price for what we got.
An example of the food on offer included homemade vegetable soup with French bread and butter, French coarse pork pate served with toasted baguette and salad garnish, mushroom ravioli with mushroom sauce and Parmesan, and smoked salmon mousse with prawn salad ( for an extra £1) – and they were just the starters.
Kelly went for the soup, which on this occasion was spicy pumpkin. It was not particularly spicy but very tasty and thick, and it was lapped up with the fresh-baked bread and proper butter.
I decided on the pate, which came out in a style I hadn't seen before. Rather a sort of paste, the pate was served in little round balls.
They were more like stuffing balls but the flavour was awesome and it was lovely to chew on the filling and added herbs with a salad, rather than spreading it all over the bread – although it did go very nicely with the bread too.
The mains were equally as impressive and included the likes of salmon fillet with coarse grain mustard sauce served with poached egg and crushed potatoes, beef stuffed peppers, and butterbean and cheese bake in a Filo pastry dish.
There was also a 'fish of the day' option, which happened to be homemade fisherman’s pie topped with potatoes and served vegetables.
Being a fish lover I opted for that, which came served with green beans and carrots.
Once the extreme heat had died down, the meal was delicious.
There possibly could've been a bit more fish but it all came served in a wonderful cheesy sauce, which wasn't too rich and had just the right consistency.
The vegetables were cooked to perfection and it all combined to make a really nice lunchtime main meal.
Kelly went for the chicken casserole with sliced roasted pots. It was a perfect size and came with a rich, garlicky sauce – and she said the crispy, roasted sliced potatoes made a nice change to the usual mash.
Many times we have eaten out and avoided dessert because the portions had been so big – but not this time.
And that is not a slight on the restaurant either as the meal sizes were ideal, perfect for a lunchtime too, leaving enough for a few drinks and a pudding without feeling bloated or ridiculously full, which can be challenging for someone like me with no self control.
The desserts, like the starters and mains, change regularly so what you get can be a bit of a lottery. But if ours were anything to go by, it's a lottery you cannot lose.
Kelly decided to try the pear and chocolate torte with cream which, simply put, she described as 'amazing'.
The combination of pear and chocolate went really well, as it was not too sweet and also not too rich.
I went for the raspberry roulade, which was lovely and stodgy, and again was just the right amount.
The bread just eased away from the plate and almost melted in my mouth. Served with cream, it was also a wonderful mix of warm and cold on the tastebuds.
A really nice way to end the meal.
The drinks were also worth mentioning too as we shared a bottle of Riviera which, without pretending to be connoisseurs, was possibly the nicest merlot we had ever tasted.
It had the body of a Shiraz but with the smoothness of something like a Rioja. It was really was very nice and didn't break the bank, although there were plenty of even finer wines that would have.
We also ended our afternoon with a coffee. I went for a Highland liqueur, which was filtered coffee with cream, sugar and a shot of malt whisky, while Kelly had a mint cappuccino.
They were both excellent drinks and helped to round off the meal even better. It's fair to say we both left the restaurant absolutely content, not overly full – and not too merry either. It was a great start to a birthday weekend.
French Connection also has a range of freshly prepared dishes that can be put in fridges or freezers that are cooked by their wonderful chefs and can be used for dinner parties, buffets or any sort of get-togethers.
Freshly-baked croissants and bread are also made on site, to either eat in or take home – and for those who really enjoy a hot drink, there's a coffee club to save money.
The restaurant has further lovely-looking menus for breakfasts and all-day light meals, a main Rouge menu, and also Christmas evening and Christmas lunch offerings.
Definitely worth popping into if you're every out and about in Stourbridge.