A POPULAR restaurant has been forced to close after a fire wrecked its kitchen.

La Petite Petanque, in Cambridge Square Gardens, Southend, was left badly damaged by the blaze.

The fire, at 11pm on Sunday, is being investigated, but it is not thought to be suspicious.

However, it could have been worse had it not been spotted by the manager’s daughter.

Luba Filkova lives near the restaurant with her daughter Caroline.

She said: “My daughter looked out of the window and saw smoke coming from the restaurant.

I jumped out of bed and ran out in my pyjamas.

“We called the fire brigade and they got there very quickly and did a very good job, but there is a lot of damage.

“We don’t know how it started.

I have had to cancel all our bookings for the next four weeks and I don’t think we will be open until March.”

Devastated owner Julie Rooke, who took over the bistro-style venue in 2011, said: “We are going to be closed for four to six weeks. It’s all very upsetting.

“The fire has destroyedmost of the kitchen, but it’s all going to be done up again. Lots of our lovely regulars have offered to help. They have been wonderful.”

The restaurant is set in the tranquil bowling green in a conservation area away from the hustle and bustle of the town.

The pavilion building is owned by Southend Council, which has inspected the damage.

A spokesman said: “Our officers are working closely with the La Petite Petanque tenants and their insurers to get the business back open again as soon as possible.”