As I mentioned back in November I’m a sucker for a ‘soft’ restaurant opening because there is a wonderful feeling of dining before the critics descend and pronounce the received view of an establishment, of virgin piste if you like, and, even better, you tend to get a benign bill when it’s time to call in l’addition. I was delighted therefore to visit ‘Chabrot – Bistro d’Amis’ on Knightsbridge Green, SW1 which is a bijou but blithe French eating house in an expensive part of town.

As ever with me it was the wine list that lured me there in the first place. It has been compiled with care by my old chum Philippe Messy, who is one of the co-patrons, and features over 140 bins focusing mainly on France but with a smattering of other references. Again I should declare a vested interest but it is an interesting list and considering the location a good-value one too. It alone would probably draw me back but there’s more to Chabrot’ than good wines. The food is great too.

Head chef Thierry Laborde trained under Albert Roux at Le Gavroche and you can tell – in a good way. The menu kicks off with a great selection of Hors d’oeuvres or ‘small eats served as ready’ as they were endearingly translated when I went but won’t be by the time you visit. These are sub-divided into ‘Chauds’ such as: Snails in parsley butter, fried baby squid with piments or griddled duck liver with gougères, and ‘Froids’ which include some good Basque charcuterie, cured fish and inventive salads. The ‘Chauds’ carried the day for me, especially the duck – which merits a visit in its own right. In a momentary attempt at modesty we drank a carafe of the house Bourgogne Blanc ‘Les Champlains’ Domaine Bize 2007 which was blameless and decent value at £25.50.

The main courses were terrific too. The cabbage stuffed with veal and chestnuts deserves particular commendation but Tom rated his grilled veal with sage and rosemary highly too. Service was enthusiastic and pretty good considering it was early days and that this isn’t a roomy establishment. It would be immodest to say that the Cornas ‘Renaissance’ 2007 from Domaine Auguste Clape was the high point of the evening and if anything the most memorable part of our visit was the ambience which segued from jovial to demi-raucous over the course of the dinner. We ended up joining up with 2 other tables and splitting several more bottles. Which given ones proximity to fellow diners is perhaps inevitable.

The look, feel, food, and wine are emphatically retro-French but there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

‘Chabrot’ by the way is the old paysan tradition of adding a splash of red wine to the dregs of your soup. Not something you’ll see every day in Knightsbridge but you may well here.