Many of Preston’s wonderful restaurants and bars have now reopened, with strict guidelines to make dining out as safe as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic.Advertisement
The government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme aims to encourage people back into restaurants by standing 50 per cent of the cost of a meal out, up to £10 per person. The offer is on every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the month of August, and will be valid no matter how many visits to participating restaurants anyone may make.
That means that one could, if one chose, eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days running, with an afternoon tea thrown in somewhere in the middle, all for the reduced cost.
There’s also the possibility of going on a cake crawl, if one is a middle-aged woman with very little dignity and self-respect left.
I have mapped out the route around the venues and what kind of cake that shameless individual might choose to eat there. Just as an example of course, and definitely not the best idea I’ve ever had.
My friend Pauline and I stored that idea for now in favour of a tentative trip to Bistrot Pierre in Fishergate. It was the first time we’ve been out to eat since the lockdown so we were both very apprehensive. (It was also prior to the extra measures brought in on Friday 7 August, so at that point we were still permitted to dine out together.)
Just at the entrance to the vestibule there was a sign saying, “Please wait here.” We dutifully waited for five minutes and then Pauline broke rank and darted up the stairs like Sherlock Holmes, leaving me to trail Watsonly behind. There was another sign telling us to wait, so we did, but stared as forcefully as we could through the glass door at the staff in the hope that we’d be allowed in. Eventually a puzzled lady came up the stairs behind us and informed us that those signs were only applicable when there are queues.
In we went, to be greeted by the manager. He and I were standing a sensible distance apart as he took our names when someone jaywalked straight between us nullifying our efforts. It’s something that frustratingly seems to happen every time I go out, so I’ve decided to buy one of those litter picking sticks with the grabber on the end. Next time I need to talk to someone I can hold them still with it, preventing them from charging at me or walking away whilst also creating a barrier to stop inconsiderate people from taking a shortcut through my Covid anxiety bubble.
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As it was a spacious area the tables were well spread out, and at 5.30pm the restaurant was already about a third full. We were given paper menus and both decided on the calamari starter and the Thai fishcakes for our mains. Just before we ordered a waiter came over to tell us something but the music was quite loud so we smiled, nodded and thanked him, both of us clueless to what he was saying. He could have been asking us to sacrifice our firstborn to the Great God of Camembert, but we politely agreed to it so if that’s the case – sorry Beth.
The next waiter told us that they’d run out of a few items on the menu, but there were a number of replacements available, so I think that was what we were nodding at previously.
Some warm bread and butter arrived at the table and the calamari followed soon after. It came breadcrumbed, fried, served with a garlic mayo, and a wedge of lemon, and was perfectly cooked and well seasoned. Definitely something I would order again.
Our mains arrived; Thai fishcakes with a sweet chilli dip, fries and crunchy slaw.
It wasn’t what I’d call “slaw” because slaw doesn’t generally have mint leaves in it and stringy stuff that was pretending to be rice noodles whilst slyly being some kind of vegetable. Possibly Mooli?
I don’t mind vegetables, but I prefer them to be up front about it instead of metaphorically sneaking their vitamins into me through the fire escape. The dressing and unidentified not-noodles had a flavour that complemented the rest of the meal, but such a large crowd of mint leaves should only be allowed to gather in a mojito so I left most of it.
I’d expected a breadcrumbed, crispy fishcake but it was more like the consistency of mashed potato throughout. It had a very mild chilli kick so Pauline enjoyed it despite being cautious of spicy food, and the classic Thai herbs and spices such as lemongrass, ginger and coriander held their own. There was a pronounced fishy taste to it due to the strong combination of smoked haddock and salmon, but as I’d ordered a fishcake I probably had it coming. The sweet chilli was spot on and the decent portion of fries was hot and crispy.
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My only slight criticism of the main course apart from the excess of mint was the consistency of the fishcake. It was very dense and I would have preferred the pieces of fish to be chunkier to give it more of a variation in consistency. My mouth panics itself into immobility when it doesn’t know whether or not it’s supposed to chew.
Lastly we both chose the crēme brûleé for dessert. Pauline had never tried it before but bravely went for it despite my clumsy description of it being “a kind of cold, runny custard with crispy sugar on the top that’s been burnt on purpose”.
I don’t want to think how many calories it contained but I hadn’t seen one on a menu for years so I went for it. It was perfect; so wonderfully crunchy on top and creamy underneath that no, I don’t regret anything.
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As we chose from the “3 courses for £14.95” menu, and Bistrot Pierre was taking part in Eat Out to Help Out, our food bill came to a total of just £15 between us.
This was the first time I’d visited a Preston restaurant since lockdown began, so I was quite apprehensive, but we were impressed with the staff’s adherence to the new measures whilst still getting the food out and keeping customers happy. The food menus were disposable, the drink menus were wipeable, the salt and pepper was brought to the table in small sachets on request, and all tables and chairs were cleaned between parties.
I didn’t see them make a single slip-up, although there were a couple of precautions I’d like to see that would be extra to the government rules.
If the heavy push/pull doors were kept ajar just enough to fit an elbow or foot through to hoof them open it would save people touching a potential Covid-19 holiday camp. There was a sanitiser unit in the restaurant but neither of us noticed it, so perhaps a sign on the door to the restaurant asking diners to use it would help. I mentioned this to the duty manager who told me that they’d been given signs but were hesitant to put them up because their wording was brusque, along the lines of, “Sanitise your meathooks, you silly English kniggets!”.
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Sanitising pump dispensers on every table might protect diners further, and would give us the opportunity to sanitise our hands after pulling our chairs up to the table, taking out our money or keying our pins into the card reader. We mentioned it to the duty manager who seemed happy to hear feedback on what might further reassure customers that it’s safe to dine at Bistrot Pierre. I’d visit again for the service, the squid, the creme brulee and the dedication of the staff in making the restaurant as safe as possible.
In return for their diligence I hope we customers can continue our efforts to keep as safe a distance as possible from all the hard-working staff who are now back at work in Preston’s fabulous bars and restaurants.
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Have you visited Bistrot Pierre? Have you dined out using the Eat Out to Help Out discount? Let us know in the comments.