Coventry Market is full of surprises. Who, for example, would have guessed it was home to a classically-trained French chef whose freshly-prepared, authentic French food has recently been winning plaudits from even the most hard-to-please customers? But it is.
Chef Pascal spent his formative years in the Brittany region of northern France and worked for many years in hotels – including a stint at Coventry’s Ramada – before opening Le Petit Breton in the market in December 2018. And to make sure his food always has that unmistakeable je ne sais quoi, he makes regular trips back to France to stock up on proper French ingredients such as ham, cheeses and garlic sausage.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also take full advantage of the foodie paradise all around him in the market. “What I’m trying to do here” said Pascal “is show to people that my food is fresh food. I’ve got all the ingredients in the market. I don’t need to go outside. I want some fish, I go and see the fishmonger. I want meat, I go to the butcher. I buy everything in the market, apart from the few things I bring back from France.”
Pascal’s menu is formed of a backbone of basics such as croque monsieur (French toasted cheese and ham sandwich), croque madam (the same, but topped with a fried egg), home made quiche Lorraine, omelettes and salads which can be enjoyed for breakfast or lunch. This is supplemented with rotating daily specials, which customers can find posted on chalk boards outside the stall.
“I look at what’s available in the market” says Pascal. “And I take into account what’s been on the menu recently. For example, today I’ve got chicken legs. You can have them spicy, with roast potatoes, and salad. Or you can have soup. Today is Monday. I made French onion soup this morning, so this is going with cheese and croutons. If you want, you can have that chicken leg with pasta and pesto, I made that today.” French classics like ratatouille, beef bourgignon and Salade Nicoise also make regular appearances.
But even that’s not all. Because his family originally comes from Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, Pascal also specialises in African dishes such as yam ragoût. “I’ve got all sorts of people coming here” he says. “Chinese students, they come here; Indian people come here too. I’ve got a lot of French people who come here, but for them, it’s as much about buying the products like confit de canard and moutarde a l’ancienne that I bring back from France. They like to get that taste of home”.
Everything is prepared in front of the customer, and food can be taken away. “I can turn things around quickly, if people are in a hurry” says Pascal. “The only item here that takes a bit of time is the croque monsieur because I need to cook it in the oven to make it crispy. I can’t make it another way to make it just right. It takes about five minutes.”
And what does the French chef make of British food? “British people like spicy food” says Pascal “but my best seller is chicken wrap. Anything I make with chicken does well. I think British people are less keen on fish. But what I’m really trying to do is surprise people. English people like their routines, but we’re showing them something a bit different. We’re a little bit of France in the heart of Coventry Market.”
UPDATE (February 2020): Le Petit Breton is now permanently closed.