Cardiff’s new French food establishment Maison De Boeuf is built around one core dish: steak-frites. Two courses for £24.95, three for £29.95, with individual courses priced to suggest this is where the value lies. The former Madame Fromage has been given an eye-catching makeover, with chandeliers and mirrors making for a chic, intimate atmosphere.
It’s an idea done well elsewhere by the L’Entrecôte group, given an inclusive update here with a ‘plant-based steak’ made from wheat protein. Service is warmly welcoming, and if you grab a window or outside seat it’s an amiable spot to relax as others rush by.
Snails arrive heavy with garlic butter, and there’s a rich French onion soup which is peppery, cheesy and plentiful – but bread is disappointing, looking for all the world like a supermarket part-baked baguette, and salad is under-dressed.
Steak-wise, I ask for medium-rare but am told they slice the meat so thinly that they can only offer rare, medium and well. Beef is British but if you’re expecting a classic steak with a good sear, you’ll be disappointed. What arrives both times resembles nothing quite so much as carvery topside, rather than anything I’d understand as ‘steak’ in this context, though my plate is refilled automatically.
The ‘secret sauce’, essentially a heavily-herbed béarnaise, is nicely balanced. Fries are obviously bought frozen, though served crisp and well-seasoned. There are issues with both halves of the ‘steak frites’ idea, then. My dessert, where the centre of my huge profiterole is barely thawed, is another concern.
Perception matters. How you feel about this could well swing on when you visit – an expensive workday lunch feels like a cheap night out, especially as competitors’ prices spiral upward. Yet at lunchtime, it would be impossible to ignore what is nearby. The Potted Pig’s lunch offers three courses for £23; £30 buys you three courses at Casanova, or at Asador 44, one of Wales’ most distinctive and consistent restaurants.
There’s an attractive idea here: a simple menu done well is a lovely thing. But details count, as does context, and right now Maison De Boeuf is frustrating.
Maison De Boeuf, 21 Castle Arcade, Cardiff.
Info: 029 2280 4462 / maisondeboeuf.com
words JONATHAN SWAIN