Le Gavroche opened in 1967 in Lower Sloane Street in Chelsea. When Michelin appeared in the UK in 1974 it was awarded a star, and a second star in 1977. Four years later it relocated to its current Mayfair basement home and in 1982 received the elusive third star rating. This actually was the first 3 star award in the UK, the second being the Waterside Inn in 1985 under Michel Roux. Le Gavroche’s kitchen was at that time run by Albert Roux, so it was a double triumph for the Roux brothers. In 1993 Albert handed over the reins to his son Michel Jnr, and Michelin reduced the stars to two, a rating that it has retained ever since. The dining room is carpeted and peaceful, the tables large and well-spaced.
The wine list at Le Gavroche is vast, with for example fourteen different vintages of Mas de Daumas Gassac, though as we discovered not everything listed here is actually available. St Chinian A l’Origine Les Sentiers de Bagatell 2016 was £50 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Mas de Daumas Gassac 2009 was £110 compared to its retail price of £38, and Hartford Court Four Hearts Vineyard Chardinnay 2012 was £145 for a wine that will set you back £84 in a shop. There was plenty for wealthy Mayfair residents to indulge in, such as E. Guigal La Turque 2000 at £690 compared to its retail price of £302 (the superior 1999 vintage was less marked up at £895 compared to its retail price of £668), and Chateau Latour 1990 was a frankly absurd £3,250 for a bottle that has a current market value of £899.
The nibbles tonight were celeriac remoulade and smoked eel tartlet and fromage blanc with quince jelly on toast. Harmless enough, but these were the sort of nibbles you might see at a good gastropub. I would hope for something better at a two Michelin star restaurant. The tartlet at least had good pastry (just about 15/20). This was followed up with a piece of deep fried squid with parsley sauce. Again, this was perfectly edible, but the squid itself was nothing remarkable, and the frying was not some ethereal piece of talented tempura cookery that you might find in Japan: it was just a piece of competently cooked, deep-fried squid with a slightly metallic-tasting sauce (14/20 is kind).
The level of the meal was lifted to an altogether higher level with the appearance of soufflé suissesse, a Gavroche signature dish from the days when Albert Roux ran the kitchen. This twice-cooked soufflé is made with Cheddar, Gruyere and double cream and is, despite its rich ingredients, surprisingly light in texture and lovely to taste. It is made by cooking cream and cheese in a pan, while a béchamel sauce and whisked egg whites are combined, placed in a tin and briefly cooked in the oven, then turned out into a pan of hot cream, sprinkled with cheese and finished under a salamander. Gorgeous (19/20).
Artichoke heart “Lucullus” (named after a Roman politician and general) is another classic dish of this restaurant. An artichoke heart is filled with foie gras, and covered in chicken mousse and black truffle, served with a rich Madeira and truffle sauce. This looks lovely and tastes every bit as good as it appears, the richness of the foie gras balanced by the earthy artichoke, the reduced sauce rich but not gloopy, the scent of truffle lifting the sauce. This was another top-notch dish (18/20).
A wild mushroom risotto with white truffle was good (16/20 level) but I actually preferred a risotto dish that I tried a few days earlier at Dysart. A dish of monkfish that had been poached in red wine and served with salsify, celery and leeks was disappointing. The fish was slightly overcooked, and although still entirely edible I had eaten a better monkfish dish elsewhere a few days earlier (14/20).
My main course of venison loin came with sautéed Brussels sprouts, girolle mushrooms and a juniper-infused jus. The venison was pink and had good flavour and the sauce was good. The vegetables were fine too, though for me this was just a capably cooked, nice one star level dish rather than something really special (16/20).
The cheese board was vast, with a wide selection from several different suppliers. For dessert I had passion fruit soufflé, a classic dish here and one that was very well executed. The soufflé was cooked evenly, had very light texture and the passion fruit flavour came through nicely; this was served with white chocolate ice cream (19/20).
Service was very slick as usual here, the staff being attentive and professional. The bill came to £256 per person, albeit with plenty of wine. If you had three courses and coffee and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be around £150. This was a rather mixed meal. The classic dishes of soufflé Suisesse, artichoke Lucullus and passion fruit soufflé were lovely. However the nibbles were very ordinary indeed, and the other dishes that we tried ranged from merely quite good (venison) through to imperfect (the monkfish). The trouble is that at these prices the food needs to be consistently excellent throughout the menu. If you navigated the menu very precisely you could end up with a good two star level meal here, but it would equally be easy to choose less well and eat a meal that was barely one star level. That is a less than ideal situation and one that makes it hard to score – the arithmetic average of these dishes was exactly 16.5 i.e. between 16/20 and 17/20 overall. I have a lot of warm memories of Le Gavroche over the years but this meal was a little disappointing overall if you exempt the classic dishes. Mind you, it is still better than The Waterside Inn.