CONSIDERING I’m virtually shooed out the door of North Port when I have the temerity to ask whether they have a table for one, at 7pm, on a Tuesday – perhaps try again after 9.30pm (yeah, right) – Cardo is a joy.

“Good choice,” the bright and breezy, super-smiley waitress says after offering me a range of free two-seaters and I settle for the comfy-looking bench on the back wall that, crucially for oddballs like me, faces the door.

“Fresh bread, tapenade, water,” the equally breezy and smiley (Brazilian) waiter says as he bounces by, say, two minutes later placing all of the above before me.

It’s a bustly little bistro this tonight, filling up with a collection of Frenchies to my left, Spaniards to my right, those faintly mothbally 1950s Perth County Types (my dear chap) by the door and a smattering of younger people eating pizzas further down.

Le Directeur, as one of the waiting staff will describe her, glides by moments later and says good-evening everyone. They have a blackboard – that once-guaranteed sign of freshness now hijacked and devalued by every cheesy English pub chain and wide-boy restaurant group in the land. This one even looks like actual chalk, rather than paint, has been used.

I order a starter, two mains and a dessert from it and the waitress takes the order with a laugh, saying no more than "hungry tonight”. Two minutes later the Brazllian chap is over and in a nice smiley way, because they have completely mastered the art of genuineness in here, is inquiring whether sir actually ordered two main courses for himself or whether his colleague may have gone a little bit crazy this evening.

OK, he doesn’t use those exact words. I have anyway, luckily as it will later turn out for Cardo, though not without some trepidation. Mushroom ravioli with blue cheese sauce? Has the kitchen (French I’m told) gone a little bit crazy too, I wonder.

I need not fear a thing. After grazing my way through the freshly-baked bread and half a pot of a coarse, punchy and proper tapenade, my giant raviolo (it is fashionably singular) arrives.

Most chefs get so excited when they can actually make pasta that they refuse to spoil their efforts by adding anything like flavour. Hence the world being subjected to the eternal dreariness of a billion bland raviolo with coma-inducing, butternut squash. Not so in here: crack, pow, wham, this thing zings with flavour.

“Is the ravioli made in here?” I ask a passing waitperson. “Everything is made fresh in here, they’re crazy in that kitchen,” pings back the reply.

After this superb start I can hardly wait for my baked cod fillet, gratin dauphinois, scallop veloute sauce. Uh-oh, is frankly my first thought when a plate draped unattractively in a thick orange-coloured sauce approaches. Uh-oh is my second thought when I taste a thick, dry, inadequately seasoned, gratin dauphinois and uh-oh again when I take a flake of a somewhat tired-tasting piece of cod.

The kitchen also seems to have produced a sauce that looks offensive, smells way too strongly of shellfish while tasting of, er, exactly nothing. And the beans aren’t tailed. I very much do not like this. And were I stop here we would be having an entirely different review. However…and this proves why you should always order two main courses: there’s the braised pig cheeks with mustard mash.

If the fish is a disaster, this is an absolute triumph. Crisped and completely carmelised, yet still fully succulent pork, a proper, tangy, bottomlessly deep red wine jus that simply tingles all the way down and mashed potatoes that are neither reduced to wallpaper paste nor bland. Hurrah.

A nougat glace, genoise biscuit and a cream Anglaise follow. Simple, light, perfectly good.

I leave happy, pausing only to note that the service in here is close to the best I have ever seen.


38 South Street


01738 248784

Menu: Proper cheery French bistro with a chalkboard full of today’s specials and a pizza oven that goes like a fair. 4/5

Atmosphere: relaxed, comfortable and very friendly, yet French without being in your face in a themed way. 5/5

Service: Two outstanding waiting staff: smiley, relaxed and friendly. Best service I’ve seen for a very long time. 5/5

Price: Three courses for around £21 is good value, two for £18 not too bad, one for £15 not so good. 4/5

Food: Unpretentious bistro food with an interesting raviolo, good fresh bread and tapenade, great pork cheeks and a car-crash cod. 6