Restaurants which offer cheap French food in homely bistro surroundings, have sprung up across Britain in the past six years. But although enormously popular, distinguished restaurateurs described the food the chains serve as "lousy", and said customers were being conned. Nico Ladenis, owner of Chez Nico in London, threw tact to the wind, saying meals served up at Cafe Rouge were junk and he was amazed that Whitbread would want to spend so much money to acquire the chain.
"These concept restaurants are just creating an illusion of French cooking and it makes me very sad that Whitbread want to spend so much money buying rubbish. They have tried to make their restaurants look genuine, but they aren't. I would suggest that McDonald's looks to its laurels, because it is the only real competition for Cafe Rouge and Dome."
Raymond Blanc, chef- proprietor of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, was equally forthright. "I have been to one of those places and I was struck by the mediocrity of the cuisine and nondescript quality," he said. "It is a travesty of French cooking. "
Philippe Lhermitte, general manager of Mon Plaisir, the oldest French restaurant in London, dismissed the chain as little more than cliched interpretation of French bistro culture.
"We are producing genuine French food. A lot of these places are just a poor imitation, but the problem is that they are trying to convince people that a certain type of food is genuine, traditional, French cooking.
"At Mon Plaisir, every frite is peeled by hand and the food is cooked properly. It is not just bought in, ready-prepared. These places are offering a cliche."
There was however, one lone voice of support, from chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who had nothing but praise for the professional way that the company had built itself up.
"I think the concept is very good and Pelican have done very well with it, the tables are always packed.
"French cooking is very elitist and they are very arrogant about it, so if these restaurants bring them down to size a bit by simplifying it all, then I see no problem with that."Reuse content