Alexis Gauthier has always had an interest in vegetarian food He offered a full vegetarian menu at his former restaurant Roussillon in Pimlico, at a time (in the late 1990s) when asking for a vegetarian choice in most London restaurants would result in a puzzled expression followed by an omelette with green salad. At Gauthier, which opened in 2010, he continued to offer plenty of plant-based dishes, but in 2021 went over to the green side entirely and now offers only vegan choices. This is quite a bold commercial decision that doubtless will have lost some regular customers but has also brought him new ones. Alexis trained with Ducasse at Louis XV in Monaco, but the kitchen is headed on a day-to-day basis by Alexis’s long-time trusted right hand man Gerard Vrolle, who was directing proceedings tonight. The restaurant is split over three levels of a Soho town house, the tables well-spaced and the atmosphere pleasingly peaceful, an oasis of calm in the bustle of Soho. There was a lengthy tasting menu at £85 as the current offering.
There is a wine list, but it seemed to be a little shy at the time of my visit. There is no list on the web site, but on request I was sent one. It turned out that the restaurant was rebuilding its list when I visited, but in a few months’ time it will be relaunched. At present, in its place, there is a pairing priced at £70. In actual fact the list looks very good, with 126 bottles ranging from £38 to £1,200 with a median price of £94 and markup to retail average of just 2.8 times, which is more than fair by London standards. I am not usually a fan of wine pairings, but this one seemed better put together than most, and the Czech sommelier knew his stuff.
The meal began with a canape of chilled watercress veloute and Granny Smith apple with lime and grilled shiso leaf. This was refreshing, with the controlled sharpness of the lime coming through nicely (15/20). Even better was a vol au vent of potato boulangere and sour cream with seaweed caviar, the puff pastry delicate and the filling nicely balanced through the sourness of the cream (16/20).
Focaccia was made from scratch in the kitchen and was lovely, with soft pillowy texture. This came with a dip of wild garlic sauce flavoured with pesto (16/20). Jerusalem Artichoke and truffle risotto followed. As well as Jerusalem artichoke this involved some globe artichoke crisps, the dish completed by cream of artichoke and hazelnuts. The truffles were summer truffles (from the Balkans) with very limited flavour, though soon these will be upgraded to Australia black truffles. This dish was very pleasant, and it would be interesting to experience it with the superior fragrance of a true black truffle (tuber melanosporum) rather than summer truffles, which offer mostly decoration (14/20).
The dish of the meal was asparagus from Provence with black sesame seed pastry tuile as well with a vegan hollandaise (which uses some sort of some egg replacement, possibly chickpea water) flavoured with miso with tahini sauce. The asparagus was extremely good and precisely cooked, the sauce working really well with it (16/20).
Fennel was roasted and served with borlotti beans, pickled blackberries, roasted hazelnuts and an infusion of hibiscus and blackcurrant with basil and fennel infusion. The mild anise flavour of the fennel worked well with the infusion to lift it, and the textural contrast of the nuts and beans contributed to a successful dish balance (15/20).
This was followed by pearl barley made in the style of a risotto, with vegan cream cheese and a purée of petit pois. This was topped with runner beans, broad beans, pea shoots, toasted almond flakes and preserved lemon, flavoured with a little nasturtium oil. This was a pleasant dish though I think I would have preferred a traditional risotto which this kitchen can make particularly well if it chooses to (14/20). Kohlrabi was barbecued and served with marsh samphire, pickled daikon and a vegan “beurre blanc” infused with plant-based butter and flavoured with kaffir lime and lemongrass. I quite liked the sauce but the kohlrabi for me was a little bland, though it was certainly cooked correctly (14//20).
White asparagus from Provence came with Calcot onion cream and Scottish morels stuffed with smoked tofu and mushroom duxelle. Having just eaten pretty much perfect asparagus at a pair of three-star restaurants in Germany just days before, it is perhaps churlish to compare this white asparagus, which was decent enough but for me lacked the flavour of the excellent green asparagus of the earlier course. The morels were good, though again suffered by comparison with dazzling ones I had just eaten at Waldhotel Sonnora (14/20). Petit pois came with crispy shallots and vinaigrette of charred cos lettuce and pickled onion, as well as smoked granita of sugar snaps, normally petit pois would have bacon, and here its place was taken by smoked hickory. This was fine, though I’ll be sticking to bacon (14/20).
For dessert, “summer berry float” came with a sorbet of lemon balm and blackcurrant. This was a lovely dish, the fruit of the berries having excellent flavour and the lemon spritz bringing lightness (16/20). The final dish was a sphere of 70% dark chocolate with almond and hazelnuts. There were two different ganache, one of oat milk and one of dark chocolate, all brought together with a sauce of hot chocolate. This was a very enjoyable dish, the richness of the chocolate nicely balanced by the nuts (15/20).
Coffee was very enjoyable Brazil Yellow bourbon from Difference Coffee. Service was excellent throughout, and the bill came to £94 a head. I enjoyed this meal, which showed considerable technical skill. Consider the constraints that a vegan kitchen has to operate under: no butter, no cream, no cheese, never mind chicken stock and the like. This means there is a lot of skill require to bring out flavour and to recreate familiar taste experiences without several elements that are quite fundamental to most French cooking. The kitchen has the talent to do this, with essentially no dud dishes across a quite lengthy tasting menu. If you want a serious vegan dining experience then this is without doubt the place in London to go.