Alexis Gauthier, long-time executive chef at (now defunct) Roussillon, has struck out on his own, taking over the Soho town-house premises that used to be The Lindsay House. It is an unusual and slightly tricky space for the staff, with a series of small dining room areas over multiple floors, now with a grey carpet, white walls and beige upholstery. The tasting menu was priced at £70, but from the a la carte menu you could choose three courses for a very fair £27, four courses at £36 and five courses at £45 (lunch is £25 for three courses). I found the menu appealing, with generally pleasing ingredient combinations. Alexis has brought with him several staff from Roussillon, including his old head chef Gerard Vrolle and the restaurant manager.
The mainly French and Italian wine list stretches over 41 pages and contains choices such as Mas de Daumas Gassac red (2007 at £59 compared to a retail price or £18, with the older 1996 at a chunky £125 compared to a retail price of about £27), Albert Mann Pinot Gris 2008 at £43 for a wine you can buy for around £13, and the entry level Lake Chalice 2008 Pinot Noir at £34 for a wine that costs a tenner in the shops.
A nice hangover from Roussillon is that they actually make their own bread. A wide selection of rolls is offered, with bacon bread, black olive rolls, cumin bread, chorizo, walnut, and tasty Parmesan and garlic rolls as well as a simple baguette. It is so nice to see someone making the effort to bake their own bread in London (7/10). As you look at the menu you can snack on pigeon rilette, delicate chickpea beignet with basil vinegar dip and crudités of carrot and radish, the latter from Secretts Farm in Kent and carefully chosen (6/10 nibbles).
Tonight I tried the tasting menu. There was no Alexis in the kitchen, but Gerard Vrolle, his longtime right hand man, was in charge. Pan-fried duck foie gras was nicely cooked, serve with caramelised apricot, ginger marmalade and a quite intense port reduction; a bit more acidity would not have gone amiss here (5/10). Scallops were nicely cooked, served with girolle mushrooms, parsley reduction and a dressing made from the scallop coral (5/10). Summer ceps risotto was rich and well made, the rice having good texture (6/10).
Sea bass and baby squid was cooked well, but served with a courgette tempura with rather soggy batter (4/10). Piglet belly had good flavour, served with glazed baby carrot, leek fondant with cherry jam and a sauce of the pork cooking juices (6/10). The meal finished with “Louis XV”, the dark chocolate and praline croustillant made famous at Louis XV in Monaco, where Alexis Gauthier worked as a pastry chef many years ago, of which I have written before.. Overall, a very enjoyable evening.
Here are some brief notes from a lunch in 2011.
Risotto has always been a strength of Alexis’s cooking. Today the kitchen used veal stock rather than traditional chicken stock, which adds a stronger flavour, and in this case worked nicely with the taste of the morel mushrooms in the risotto. Because the rice is partly pre-cooked (to facilitate service) this is never going to be quite as good as the best examples of risotto you can get in top restaurants in Italy, since the pre-cooking affects the texture of the rice, but by London standards this is still very good indeed (7/10).
Angus beef with black olives was good quality and nicely cooked, served with braised carrots and cardoons, tasty bone marrow potatoes and rich beef jus (5/10). For dessert I could not resist the Louis XV, a version of the famous croustillant dish of the Louis XV in Monaco that Alexis used to make when he was working theer as a pastry chef. It has been described as a friend of mine as a "posh Kit Kat”, but Kit Kats never tasted like this (8/10).
What follows are notes from a meal in May 2009.
Amuse-bouche was a simple dish of warm vegetables (carrot, artichoke, turnip) in a jus de roti (i.e. meat cooking juices with wine). A simple dish, but again this had good quality vegetables, especially by the standards of the UK (comfortably 5/10). A salad of warm Scottish lobster was fairly tender, served with a salad with of tarragon and coral; the leaves were good but for me the dish would have been better with some sort of sauce (4/10). Herb and ricotta ravioli had nice texture and was served with tender, properly podded, broad beans (5/10).
A pair of scallops was carefully timed, served with celery, brown butter and lime, as well as confit tomato. The celery seemed a little over-salted, and I wonder whether this set of vegetables was the most natural accompaniment to the scallops, but the shellfish were of good quality and the dish was well executed (5/10). The star of the meal was Italian spring truffle risotto, made with excellent chicken stock and laced with Parmesan. This was a really top class risotto, having lovely texture and deep flavour from the superb stock (easily 7/10, pushing 8/10).
For main course I had Scottish beef fillet on a bed of moussseron mushrooms and more of the tender broad beans, with bone marrow-flavoured potato. The beef was of good quality, the vegetables and cooking juices excellent (comfortably 6/10). I preferred this to steamed halibut with parsley crust with white asparagus, pickled ginger and aromatic soy sauce. I am not sure that these ingredients sit well together, while the parsley flavour was a little too dominant for me (4/10).
Pre-dessert of seasonal Alphonso mango was topped with jasmine granite and a tuile; simple but refreshing (5/10). My dessert was new season English strawberries on a sable biscuit with Chantilly cream; the strawberries actually tasted of strawberry, a rarity in the UK these days (6/10). Rum and pineapple soufflé had with nice texture, though I felt the rum flavour came through too strongly (5/10). Coffee was a generous double espresso with good flavour, offered with chocolate truffles and a financier (6/10).
Service was very friendly, though the rather awkward room shape makes it hard for the staff to see every corner, and there were some minor topping-up gaps. Overall I really enjoyed the meal. The restaurant has only just opened, so there are a few kinks to iron out, but it already is operating between 5/10 and 6/10 level, with my risotto showing just how much talent is in the kitchen. If the prices stay at this level (our bill was £66 each all in) then it is a relative bargain given the quality of ingredients and the central location. I will happily return.