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Restaurant review: Cafe Tabou in Perth is pleasingly Gallic with a warming welcome

Goats cheese and beetroot souffle at  Cafe Tabou.
Goats cheese and beetroot souffle at Cafe Tabou.

There was a time in my life when I would be in France every weekend, catching the Ryanair flight to Bergerac with such dependable regularity it felt like catching a bus.

I wasn’t alone because the attractions of commuting between France and London weren’t lost on the many fellow passengers I came to recognise on the flight.

I would do a couple of hours’ work in my office in central London, get to Stansted, breeze through fast track and a few hours later I’d be sipping a glass of chilled rose in my beautiful French garden. It was a nice life and sometimes it felt like it was forever Le Week-End.

However, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I sold my share of my beautiful French mill house, along with 18 acres of land and the most bucolic outdoor swimming pool overlooking the River Lède, which ran through our garden, powering the mill as it gently tinkled by.

Even as I type this, I can remember the absolute bliss of lying by that pool feeling like I’d stopped the world for a few days.

Murray’s France

Selling up in France as Brexit and Covid-19 stole our lives away wasn’t my cleverest move and I often still dream of that house because never have I longed to be French/European/anything but British more than I do right now.

My France was that of the bounteous larder of the South West – walnuts and truffles, honey, white asparagus, sweet Monbazillac wine, goose fat and garlic. It was Sunday food markets of such bursting freshness that returning to the UK and walking round Tesco felt like going back to 1953 with a ration card.

France was joy and a lot of that joy came from the food and wine available even in the smallest of local shops – in fact l’epicerie nearest us was dark and always seemed closed but the bell would ring as you entered and Mme. Debiard would hobble out from the back shop, and tell you what was good to buy that day.

Murray Chalmers.

My France wasn’t the France of nouvelle cuisine or healthy cuisine minceur, the “slimming cooking” style pioneered by French chef Michel Guerard, even if I seemed to spend many long hot summer days just eating tomatoes picked from our garden and cherries from our trees.

My France, and the style of cooking I most associate with it, is the France of the duck, the goose and the pig, all of which I would cook on our fantastic Lacanche cooker – the Rolls Royce of the kitchen and as good a piece of kit as any aspiring Francophile could wish for.

Now back in Scotland, trying to replicate the French experience on Tayside isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Dundee’s only French restaurant, Cafe Monmartre, finally ground to a bohemian halt a few years ago, before I’d had a chance to visit.

It’s such a shame and I’m sure it must be much missed by regulars because the food there sounded pretty authentic. A quick look at their Instagram page shows a restaurant filling a real gap in the market in Dundee. I don’t think anywhere has come along to replace it.

Cafe Tabou

Salvation arrived with a visit to Perth to the closest thing to a Parisian brasserie we could find in Courier Country.

Cafe Tabou sits in a nice position in this beautiful city, which increasingly seems to be full of empty buildings begging to be reopened or re-purposed.

Hopeful “To Let” signs dominate some streets, including those around Perth’s self-styled Cafe Quarter. The wonderful building housing Beales department store (formerly the iconic McEwans) has sat empty and unloved since the store closed in March 2020, after a history in the city dating back to 1868.

Outside Cafe Tabou on St John’s Place, Perth.

The sight of these grand buildings left empty induces such a state of melancholy in me that opening the doors of Cafe Tabou gives an instant and very welcome jolt of warm familiarity.

This place feels welcoming, and it ticks a lot of the design boxes of an ersatz style once popularised by Cafe Rouge, a chain which seemed impossibly glamorous when it first appeared.

Here we have everything you need to feel just French enough; the red panelling, the busy bar, the empty wine bottles caked in candlewax, the wicker basket filled with baguettes, the red tablecloths and the polished glasses of a traditional French brasserie.

The staff wear red aprons and the walls are painted that specific kind of yellow that seems to replicate 100 years of Gitanes smoke from a mere few licks of Dulux.

Step inside Cafe Tabou.

Closer inspection reveals that the wood and stone of the floor might possibly be a more cafe-friendly linoleum and that the tablecloths are plastic – but to be fair, this is entirely consistent with many such places I visited back in Lot et Garonne.
Cafe Tabou feels nice and it feels jolly and it lifts the spirits.

We hadn’t booked and the place was packed with what seemed to be regulars – always a good sign.

I can see why this place is popular, even if I had a few misgivings about the food we ate.

Firstly, the service is excellent, especially from the waitress who greeted us with the widest smile and the friendliest demeanour. She was just one of those people who make you feel so welcome that your shoulders instantly drop, knowing you’re going to have a great time.

Cafe Tabou.

The food

The menu is long and is supplemented by a list of four specials chalked on a blackboard. On the Sunday we visited the roasts seemed to be very popular, and they looked excellent. There’s a “terrace menu” which is served from 12 until late daily, with the reminder that the kitchen closes at 9pm (8pm on a Sunday and Monday).

Try as I might, I couldn’t really see any specific stylistic differences between this menu and the main a la carte, although I suppose you could say the terrace menu does feature simpler dishes like croque monsieur (£13.90) and salad du chef (£8.90 starter, £12.90 main).

A set menu is also available for £21.90 (one course), £23.90 (two courses) and £25.90 for three courses.

I chose fish and seafood bisque (£8.90) from a list of starters including grilled snails (£12.90) and coquille saint Jacques (£12.90).

Fish and seafood bisque.

So far, so French, even if the scallops did come with streaky bacon ash, cauliflower vanilla puree, sous vide apples and lemon caviar, whatever that is.

A crème brûlee à l’avocat at £10.90 was a bit too exotic even for my exploratory tastes, the avocado brûlee, ginger tuille, charred blood orange, beetroot gel and pickled walnuts striking me as a chef who was perhaps going off piste a little too much.

My bisque was good, with a nice depth of flavour, perhaps coming from “Cafe Tabou’s unique seasoning” although a real bisque anyway is a rich, thick, highly seasoned soup.

Here I quote from Julia Child’s classic book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Volume Two: “Undoubtedly the bisque came into being because it is an easy as well as an elegant way to eat small crustaceans with complicated constructions like crayfish and crabs… a bisque is not tricky to make, it just takes a long time”.

Inside the restaurant.

I really enjoyed this version here; although some might prefer a little more actual fish in the dish, I was very happy with the rich bisque emulsion and the few mussels and pieces of fish within.

The bisque came accompanied by too little Gruyere, garlic croutons and saffron rouille for my taste – it was a good starter, though.

David’s starter of a simple salad (£3.90) was fine but really he only ordered it because of a lack of vegetarian options, something Cafe Tabou also shares with many restaurants in France (although this is changing rapidly as even French supermarkets now stock more “bio” products to cater for vegetarians and vegans).

My main course of duo of lamb (£24.90) was excellent, comprising lamb rump and neck, wild mushroom, apricot, asparagus, heritage potato pave, pickled daikon and black butter.

The lamb was perfectly cooked and the accompaniments were harmonious and pleasing, even if I couldn’t really taste the apricot.

While the dish was truly very good I have to wonder whether some of the ingredients actually added much to the deeply resonant flavours of the three main elements – the lamb, mushroom and asparagus – and, looking through the menu, I think this addition of extraneous elements is something that needs to be reined in a bit to allow the main ingredients to shine.

Goat’s cheese and beetroot soufflé.

David’s beetroot and goat’s cheese twice baked souffle (£21.90) suffered from the basic problem that it just wasn’t very nice. Served with celeriac duchess potato, pearl barley pops and ginger jelly, this was definitely an example of the Emperor’s new clothes. The problem was that the souffle, vibrantly pink from the beetroot, was so overcooked that it felt crumbly and just odd, with none of the wobble associated with a classic example of this wonderful dish.

Here it looked like a broken meringue and, although it looked like a colourful and appealing dessert – with the added issue that it just didn’t taste of anything.
Once again I longed for the exemplary, classic souffle made by Craig Millar at his lovely restaurant in St Monans. The adage here at Cafe Tabou would definitely be – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

My dessert of cherry petit gateau (£9.90) was just great – a chocolate mousse with a griottine cherry insert, pistachio and a crunchy coconut base. David’s crêpes Suzette (£8.40) was pretty classic and I never tire of watching some good flambe work at the table.

Crêpes Suzette.

The verdict

Service was brisk and friendly and I especially enjoyed that one of the waiting staff confessed to ramping up their French accent to enhance the customer experience, which was especially gratifying when we found out they were Polish.

Cafe Tabou is somewhere I really liked, but possibly for the wrong reasons. I would go there for classic French cookery, and there are enough examples of this on the menu to make return visits a pleasure.

I’d go there for a pleasingly Gallic atmosphere in the middle of Perth. I’d go there to investigate their Tuesday and Wednesday steak deal for two (£68.90, including a bottle of house wine, which is pretty good for Chateaubriand).

What wouldn’t pull me back are some of the wilder inventions of a chef who can obviously cook well but who I feel might sometimes be better remembering that less is more.

Nevertheless, Cafe Tabou is to be recommended.


Address: Cafe Tabou, 4 St John’s Place, Perth, PH1 5SW

T: 01378 446698


Price: Starters from £5.20; mains from £13.90 and dessert from £6.90.


  • Food: 4/5
  • Service: 5/5
  • Surroundings: 5/5

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