Le Gavroche opened as far back as 1967, moving to its current Mayfair location in 1981. It featured in the inaugural UK Michelin guide in 1974, gaining a second star in 1977, and a third in 1982, which under Albert Roux it retained until 1993. At this point Albert’s son Michel Roux Jr took over the kitchens, and it transitioned to the two Michelin stars that it has retained ever since. Its basement dining room has the feel of an old fashioned club, though this may change in January 2014 when the restaurant closes for a refurbishment. There is a bar area on the ground floor, where you can read the menu and enjoy a drink. Le Gavroche is noted for its unashamedly classical French cooking.
A tasting menu was priced at £120, with a la carte dishes varying significantly in price. However with starters from £19.80 to £60.80 for lobster mousse, main courses in the range £28 - £60, and desserts from £14.80 - £26.90, a three course meal will still be a pricey affair. The vast, mostly French wine list includes wines such as Leon Beyer Pinot Gris 2008 at £44 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £13, Berchet de Vaudieu Blanc Chateauneuf du Pape 2011 at £83 for a wine that retails at £31, and Chave Hermitage Blanc Blanche 2005 at £121 for a wine that will set you back about £36 in a shop. Relative mark-ups are kinder higher up the list, such as Lafon Perrieres 2005 at £435 for a wine that retails at £360.
As an amuse-bouche, a little piece of deep fried crab with mango salad was rather ordinary, though pleasant enough – it seemed a rather unambitious offering for a two star restaurant. It had a bread-crumbed coating but was rather curiously described as tempura (15/20). We were on firmer ground with the next dish. Soufflé suissesse is a signature dish of Le Gavroche, an old fashioned, rich and delicious cheese soufflé cooked on double cream that has been simmered and reduced. The texture was very light indeed, the cheese (Gruyere) flavour wonderful, the cream rich and smooth (18/20).
Snow crab gratin (£24.20) with parsley and espelette pepper in a Hollandaise sauce had good quality crab, the cheese topping enjoyable and the pepper well controlled, but it was quite salty, even to my taste. This also seemed a rather unambitious dish for a kitchen of this calibre (barely 16/20).
Roast suckling pig (£34.10) came with crackling, pepper sauce with golden raisins and confit shallots. The crackling was excellent, with firm texture but not rock hard as some crackling can be, the pork of good quality, the pepper sauce adding some useful balance to the meat, which would have been too dry without it (17/20).
Turbot (£48.60) was served with heritage carrots, radish and chive butter sauce; this generous piece of turbot had lovely flavour and was superbly cooked, the simple chive and butter sauce letting the fish be the star of the dish without too much flavour distraction (18/20).
Caramelised apple (£19.60) with calvados cream was served with Breton shortbread biscuit. This was a pretty and enjoyable dessert, the apple and calvados a classic combination (18/20). Passion fruit soufflé (£26.90) came with white chocolate ice cream. Desserts are a highlight at Le Gavroche, and this soufflé was hard to fault, the texture light, even cooked through with plenty of fruit flavour (19/20).
Service here is always extremely precise, with waiters paying careful attention to every detail of the meal. The bill, with plenty of good wine, came to £180 a head at dinner. Hardly a bargain, but the top dishes here are very good indeed. Ingredients are of high quality and the cooking technique is hard to fault. The set lunch here is a relative bargain but you should not expect the same level of dishes: clearly a whole meal with wine for the price of a main course in the evening is going to involve compromise. I have always found the dessert course at Le Gavroche to be the highlight, really top class. Some of the other details, such as the nibbles, can be less impressive, and the odd dish may be merely pleasant rather than striking. However the best of the cooking here is very fine indeed.