Monday, 9 February 2015

Le Gavroche - London

Le Gavroche is an institution, originally opening back in 1967 (hope they've got something special planned for the big 50!) and currently holding 2 Michelin Stars. Despite his TV commitments, Michael Roux Jr currently oversees the kitchen and is often seen roaming the dining room greeting his customers, I'm devastated to say that unfortunately I didn't get to shake his hand or get a snap with him on this occasion but despite that minor blow I am pleased to confirm the entire dining experience was one of the finest I've enjoyed in this country. 
The restaurant itself is hidden away on a backstreet in Mayfair, surrounded by residents' parking spaces filled with sports cars that i'm sure would have car nerds drooling into their pre-dinner glass of wine. The doorway to Le Gavroche is framed by a miniature hedgerow packed with flowers and it appears like an oasis to welcome you in and save you hustle and bustle tourist mayhem taking place around Hyde Park and general stench of money on the streets.

After a pleasant greeting at the door, I was lead into the waiting room which had the lights turned down and immediately felt very reassuringly classy and traditional with lots of beautiful old furniture and paintings around the room. It was like  enough for 20 people or so, not a traditional bar by any means. Entertainment was provided by a table complete with pompous arseholes spouting off at the top of their voices about how their partner should've had a boob job, numerous lap dancing clubs they'd visited recently and how much money their children had made that year, not a group of men but several couples. All very tasteless and not exactly the sort of entertainment and human beings i'd hoped to be surrounded by to be honest. 
We moved into a quiet corner and a couple of quick canapés appeared alongside drinks at the bar area and which appeared appealingly retro. I enjoyed a bottle of Roux Brew, the beer that Michael Roux Jr had recently commissioned for the restaurant. After a series of tastings from various breweries, he settled on this light grapefruit ale from FourPure which was light, citrusy and perfectly complemented the food to come so I stayed with it throughout the rest of the meal.
We were lead downstairs by one of the infamous maître d twins (I can back the blurb on the website now which states you can only tell them apart from the lapel pin), only for one of them to switch places half way and be lead off by the other. I'm not sure if this happens for everyone but it was a lovely slightly baffling piece of showmanship all the same. 

The dining room itself is very extravagant – much larger than I imagined and utterly old school. Lots of gaudily framed paintings of the Roux family and with metal animal sculptures on each table (we had a frog and a giant cock on the shelf behind us). The cutlery had miniature chubby chefs as the handles and Michael Roux was painted onto the plates - utterly mental. The dining room is underneath the building and was very dark and cool (as in temperature) as a result which enhanced the atmosphere, wandering downstairs on a lovely bright summers day and the contrast of entering an entirely darkened dining room added a lot mood-wise to the whole feel of the occasion. The severe lack of light wasn't the best environment for photos and there was no way I was letting loose with the flash i'm afraid (that's my attempt at an apology for the darkened shots to follow). 
It was an easy choice to order "The 'Menu Exceptionnel'" their grandly titled taster menu at £124 per person (inc cheese course and coffee), but I did notice that some of the a la carte prices were pretty intense. Think £50 plus per course in some instances, which could easily lead to a bill getting out of hand pretty quickly - I suppose if you're eating at Le Gavroche in the first place you're pretty prepared for that eventuality.

The bread selection was made up of a rye loaf, a crisp white mini-baguette and a country roll. None of this new-fangled modern sourdough nonsense. The bread was offered often, usually with a careful line along the theme of "more bread to dip in your sauce sir?" and always accompanied with brand new butter to keep it fresh and at optimum temperature. They must get through so much butter, we had at least 5 partially eaten portions of the stuff.

"Souffle Suissesse" 
The opening course set the scene pretty perfectly for the indulgence to follow. In fact, i'm pushed to remember ever eating a richer first course than this on a taster menu - a giant cheese souffle that was perfectly risen, ready for the air to be released like from a balloon (but without the farty noise). Digging in was similar to pulling melted cheese from the top of a perfectly cooked pizza - strands of it going everywhere. Complete and utter luxurious comfort food - the double cream sauce was perfect for mopping up with fresh bread. 

"Terrine Marbree de Foie Gras aux Epices Gelee au Madere et Croque aux Champignons" 
Easily the most generous single portion of foie gras I've been served in one go, just look at the size of it! The richness was slightly broken up by the spiced crust but as you'd expect, this absolutely continued the luxuriousness that started with the souffle. The portion of crispy mushroom toast, which was served as a mini sandwich on the side added some great crunch to the whole dish. 

"Langoustines Poelees, Petits Pois, Cebette et Jambon de Bayonne" 
I breathed a sigh of relief at the first delicate course to be served. This dish was made up of two fat juicy and langoustines presented on a bed of chopped air dried bayonne ham and fresh peas. The preparation of the sauce had eeked every last drop of pea flavour out of the vegetables and was combined with a dash of spring onion for a tiny hint of tartness.

"Filet de Maigre Parfume as Ras-el-Hanout Fenouil et Riz Rouge de Camargue" 
The pastilla was stuffed with red rice and flavoured with 'Arabian spices' accompanied by the stone bass fish served within a thin, crispy pasty roll. The meat jus and denseness of the pastilla made for quite a dense and unusally meaty fish course. 

"Joue de Porc Braisee et Fumee, Cromesquis de Couennes" 
The crispy belly ravioli was for me one of the highlights of the entire meal - think a deep fried wonton from the Chinese turned up to 11. The portion of braised and smoked pork cheek was succulent and delicious. The course came topped with the thinnest and crispiest sliver of pigs ear , which was accompanied with a thick red cabbage sauce - tangy and great with the deep fried elements.

"Supreme de Pigeon, Gaufres au Mais et Sauce aux Cassis" 
By this stage I was starting to feeling uncomfortably full and the generous portion of squab pigeon here wasn't helping at all. The soft juice soaked corn waffle with sweet blackcurrant sauce was not a combination that I particularly enjoyed but made perfect sense with the rich meat.

"Le Plateau de Fraomages Affines" - Selection of French and British Farmhouse Cheese
The cheese trolley had to be seen to be believed, I could smell it coming from around the corner before I could hear it and was drooling with excitement. I was like a kid in a sweetshop presented with a choice of upwards of 50 cheeses with crisp bread thins and a selection of chutneys. The choice was overwhelming with no apparent end to how many we could order -  a hugely memorable showpiece and it was excellent to have it included and not be 'upsold' to midway through dinner. 

"Truffle Chocolat et Sorbet, Cerises Pochees et a l'Eau de Vie" 
It came as no surprise given the luxury of the food that had preceeded but this was one of the most extraordinary chocolate desserts i've ever tasted. A scoop of rich dark chocolate ice cream served on alcohol soaked cherries and then a piece of fine rolled chocolate stuffed with mousse and a harder truffle within mixing the flavours and consistencies of the chocolate with every spoonful. It was glorious.

"Cafe et Petit Fours"
A double espresso (which was taking no prisoners strength wise) came accompanied by a tray of petit fours, then followed by chocolates and nougat but honestly by this stage I was genuinely worried about needing to be carried out of the restaurant so only really picked at them. There was a mini chocolate mousse tart, berry with icing sugar, biscuit at the front and a variation on a brandy snap. 

There were certainly some fantastic individual courses here - the pigeon, foie gras, cheese souffle, pig cheek, in fact as an a la carte menu I'd happily choose anything I ate again. My only possible complaint was that as someone with what i'd consider a pretty unstoppable appetite at the best of times, i'm still surprised that a taster menu so utterly overwhelmed me like this and honestly leads me to wonder whether many people could overcome this mountain of richness. I was in at The Ledbury the next evening and had to tone down plans for their taster menu as I was still utterly stuffed almost 24 hours later, I've never known anything like it.

I will say that eating at Le Gavroche was definitely an experience I'm glad to have enjoyed, the service was out of this world with no end to the attention to detail, the surroundings, the welcome and the overall atmosphere were truly memorable. The authenticity of the old-school feel I've already referred to just isn't something that could be duplicated without this depth of history and can only be created by year after year of outstanding food. The full taster menu was £124 per person and whilst I completely appreciate this is a huge amount of money for a meal, as a special occasion only (my waistline breathes a sigh of relief) I do believe it to represent genuine value, especially with the cheese course, coffee and petit fours included. A very special meal indeed.

Le Gavroche on Urbanspoon

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