FRENCH patisseries have a special place in our collective imagination.
I was reminded of Barrafina in Soho, another tiny space, where every corner is devoted to impassioned eating and supping. They could enjoy similar scenes here if they were willing to put up with the noise and bustle.
Thanks to years of arthouse movies and cooking shows, we’ve come to expect towering treats, doe-eyed shoppers called Amelie and snooty staff behind the counter. And the team behind the Northern Quarter’s leading (and only) French restaurant, 63 Degrees, have pulled out all the stops with their glittering new patisserie and bread shop, Bisous Bisous, in the heart of Didsbury Village.
The name means ‘little kiss’ or thereabouts, and by bonne chance, my French pal Cecile and her niece and nephew were over from Marseille on holiday. They were well up for sampling Bisous’ authetic fraisiers and pain d’epi baguettes. In fact, I learnt more about French cakes and pastries from this gang of Marseillaises than I have gleaned from watching all of Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen and meeting Raymond Blanc.
Cecile’s niece tells me that little choux pastry shells - chouquette (10 for £1.50) - are served at every conceiveable family gathering or party, while pain au chocolat (£1.20) and petite brioche (£1) should be baked fresh each day or sold at a lower price to reflect their age. Fraisiers, meanwhile, with their layers of fruit, delicate sponge and crème patisserie (‘crème pat’ as they call it on Bake Off) are strictly a summer thing, made when the strawberries from which they take their name are in season.
The store is as pretty as the cakes inside. Vanilla frosting lures you in as coffee aromas drift skywards. Marcarons paint pastel scenes on the counter, while behind the spotless glass cabinets, pain d’epi (£1.80) - baguettes shaped like ears of wheat - poke out of wicker baskets in front of an ornate mirror.
There are no sandwiches here, and no tables either. That’s a shame as there is plenty of room for a breakfast bar affair down the rear side. I was reminded of Barrafina in Soho, another tiny space, where every corner is devoted to impassioned eating and supping. They could enjoy similar scenes here if they were willing to put up with the noise and bustle; it would lend a touch of atmosphere to what comes across as a slightly clinical space. It’s early days of course; they only opened at the end of August.
Of all the cakes and pastries we tried, the only crime was a spot of overcooking. Pain au chocolat, for example, was not as fresh as we might have liked, on the dark side of caramel. Likewise the ‘feuille’ or wafer in the mille-feuille (£2.80) was overdone to the point of bitterness. I don’t mind ‘burnt’ flavour to be honest, but it did start to drag halfway through this creamy creation.
Decorated with a sugar crust, mouth-sized chouquette were a smash. Cue teens actually fighting over the last two. They’re only £1.50 for 10 as well, making them among the best value in our stash. The chocolate éclair (£2.75) decorated with a stick of high grade dark choc was again subject to much bickering in French.
Taking a hint from the word ‘macaron’ spelled out in trendy letters along the counter, I enjoyed the rich ganache - pistachio, jammy apricot and salted caramel, as I recall, £1.20 each – although the overall impression was one of slight rigidity. To my mind, macarons should be pillow-fresh, light as air. Like inhaling a sweet cloud. Conversely the praline meringue gateau (£3.75) – Cecile’s dad’s favourite – is crispy yet gooey, and airily substantial, a demonstration of lacto-sucrose alchemy that is French patisserie at its best.
Strawberry fraisier is another winner. Alongside tarte au citron, this fellow is an entry-level cake for the English palate, a vertical trifle that makes me want to take part in Bake Off. The guys are coming to the end of their season now though. Bread, meanwhile, is fresh and densely crusted in that French way that strikes fear into the weak of tooth (baguette epis de campagne, £1.80), while the little lemon madelines and ‘financiers’ (differently flavoured madelines, 3 for £2) are almost sold out. And rightly so.
Prices aren’t rude. I spent £30 and came away with a feast for four plus two Nespressos. Bit weird that they only serve Nespresso but the kids were delighted and Cecile and I felt like heroes. Cecile reminded me that back when she used to live in Manchester there was another French deli just two doors down from where Bisous is now called ‘L’Epi D’Or’ (roughly translated as the Golden Wheatsheaf). Munching on airy chouquettes as we’re waiting to pay, she whispers, “this one is much better though –more like France”. And I'm sure she's right.
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ALL OUR SCORED FOOD REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL. REVIEW VISITS ARE UNANNOUNCED AND COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT OF ANY COMMERICAL RELATIONSHIP.
Bisou Bisou, 663 Wilmslow Road, M20 6RA. 0161 222 4480
Mon closed, Tue-Sat 8am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-4.30pm.
Food: 7.5/10 (chouquette 9, pain au choc 6, epi 8, mille feuille 5, macaron 6, praline 9, fraisier 9, madelines 8)
PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-17 very good, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away