Le Champignon Sauvage is set out on the ground floor in a quiet terrace in Cheltenham. David Everitt-Matthias and his wife Helen have been running the restaurant since 1987. You enter to a bar area with wooden floors and brown leather sofas where you can peruse the menu. This has cream walls decorated with a few watercolours. The dining room has a fairly low ceiling, with well spaced tables. Walls are painted white, adorned with assorted oil paintings. Lighting is from ceiling spot lights and is quite bright. There is a blue carpet and the wooden, not particularly comfortable, chairs have blue upholstery. A la carte dining is £48 for three courses, and there is a cheaper £28 set menu also.
The wine list was 15 pages long, mostly French but with a reasonable selection from the more established New World locations, and just seven dessert wines. It is very fairly priced (especially compared to London), with house wine at just £12. Saintsbury 2005 Carneros Chardonnay is £29 (retail price £13.50), Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 £36 (retail around £16), Wynns Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 is £30 (retail price around £15). Dessert wines were less kindly priced but still tolerable: Chateau Coutet 1998 is £39 for a half bottle (retail just over £13), Yquem 1998 was £375 for a bottle (around £120 retail). Wine service was rather a surprise. We were brought the list by a waitress (there does not seem to be a sommelier as such) and I chose a bottle of white, but asked about a glass of red wine for my main course since there did not seem to be any listed by the glass. I was told that I could have a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Sauvignon. Where were these from? “from France”. “OK, could you tell me a little more?”. “Well the Pinot is from Burgundy and the Cabernet is from, er, some other region”. Bear in mind that this was the person designated to take our wine order, not someone I hailed at random. The meal service itself was efficient enough, though our wine did not quite arrive on time. This was a strange lapse as we were about the first diners to arrive, and only six tables were taken all night on this Thursday evening. I found the atmosphere quite formal and not especially welcoming, though other than the points noted it had no real faults as such.
A pair of warm, flat cheese biscuits, one plain and one with a tomato and herb topping, were pleasant but no more than that as an amuse bouche (15/20). Better was a glass of velouté of purple potatoes with a Thai spice foam; the spices came through well e.g. a distinct lemon grass note really lifted the taste of the potato (17/20). Bread was made here fresh each day, and was white, granary or brioche with bacon. All were excellent, the granary with a few seeds having lovely crust and fine flavour (18/20).
I tried roasted native lobster with confit of duck hearts, and pumpkin with nougat velouté. The lobster was superb. So often lobster is overcooked in restaurants but here it was as tender as one could wish, the pumpkin nicely cooked, the combination of the elements working well (18/20). Diver scallops from the Shetlands had excellent taste but were unfortunately distinctly overcooked, moving into the border of chewiness. This was a shame since the Jerusalem artichoke puree with them had good texture and plenty of earthy taste, a good match for the scallops. Globe artichokes were tender and the dish was prettily garnished with pea shoots and liquorice root with a little julienne of apple. This was a nicely composed dish with excellent ingredients, let down by the careless overcooking of the scallops (16/20).
A little intermediate course appeared: seared squid and monkfish cheek with hazelnut and potato mousseline and toasted hazelnuts. The hazelnuts were a nice idea, adding a hard texture contrast, but I’m afraid the squid was a little rubbery and the monkfish (a fish very easy to overcook) was done a little too long also. My Goosenargh duck was cooked beautifully pink, served with chicory which had been caramelised in maple syrup, the duck resting on a bed of excellent walnut mash. There was a good reduction of cooking juices, and the slight bitterness of the chicory was a effective partner to the duck (18/20). Fillet of zander was well timed, served with caramelised cauliflower, smooth cauliflower puree, a few girolles, drizzled with a red wine and hibiscus sauce that added a slightly sweet, floral hint to the sauce. The dish did not need nasturtium leaves as well (17/20).
The cheese board was mostly British in nature, with a few French additions. Apparently it is sourced from the local shop in Cheltenham, so I a not sure which affineur(s) are involved. Stinking Bishop, Waterloo and Oxford Isis were in very good condition, as was an excellent Beaufort and a tasty Bleu de Corse. Sadly a St Maure from Touraine had that yellow tinge indicating it had past its best while a Herefordshire goat cheese was a little chalky (cheese 16/20 overall). The cheeses were served with either biscuits or excellent walnut and raisin bread.
A cylinder of passion fruit cream with mango had lovely taste, served with a slice of caramelised mango. This was served with a smooth coconut sorbet, along with little cubes of fresh mango, and was a refreshing and successful combination (18/20). A warm prune cake was served with a block of pressed apple, and a wild cherry stone ice cream. The prune cake had a comforting texture and distinct prune taste, the pressed apple a sensible pairing for the prunes; I am less sure about the cherry stone ice cream in combination with these, though it was well made (17/20).
Coffee was very good, served with a plate of petit fours: best was a lovely rum baba, moving through capable nougat, chocolates and coconut biscuit through to a chewy liquorice chocolate. A rather mixed bag (17/20). Overall I thought the cooking was a little uneven given its two Michelin star rating, but the best dishes were very good indeed.