Le Gavroche opened in 1967 and was the first UK restaurant to gain three Michelin stars under Albert Roux; these days it has two stars, with Albert’s son Michel Junior at the helm. The basement dining room remains cosy and rather masculine in its décor; the “host” sees a menu with prices, but not the “guest”, though the waiting staff guessed wrong this evening as to our respective roles.
As we looked at the menu some nibbles appeared: goujons of sole and crisps of chicken with truffle mayonnaise and foie gras. These were classy, the chicken rich and carefully judged, the deep fried sole pieces hard to fault, crisp and carefully seasoned (18/20). These were better than a nibble of smoked salmon with skate, which was pleasant but no more than that (15/20). Bread is made from scratch and was of high quality, with mini baguettes having lovely texture.
Crab salad had crab grilled with a hint of curry sauce, alongside tempura crab with Asian dressing. The crab was as fresh as you could wish, the cooked crab accurately judged (just about 18/20). Artichoke hearts were filled with foie gras, truffles and chicken mousse, and this was a lovely, rich dish: the artichoke was tender, the mousse gorgeous: classic French cooking (easily 18/20).
For the main course, wild turbot was cooked simply and served with carrots, radish and chive butter sauce. The fish was timed beautifully and the sauce carefully judged (18/20). Roast saddle of rabbit was served as a kind of millefeuille, with a middle layer of rosti and a top layer of Parmesan crisp. The rabbit had lovely flavour, the rosti was spot on, the Parmesan crisp adding an extra rich flavour note (easily 18/20).
Desserts have always been a strength of Le Gavroche. Millefeuille of raspberries and praline-flavoured chocolate were served with faultless pastry layers, the high quality raspberries a classic balance to the richness of the chocolate (19/20). Even better was passion fruit soufflé with white chocolate ice cream, the soufflé having perfect texture all the way through, having risen beautifully, the passion fruit flavour coming through well, the white chocolate ice cream a nice balance. I have eaten a lot of soufflés in my life, but this was as good as it gets: flawless (20/20). Coffee was also terrific, dark and full of flavour: a proprietary blend. Service was silky smooth throughout the evening. It was interesting how much better this meal was than the last two bargain lunches I tried here, which were good value but not of the same calibre in terms of the food itself. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
Below are notes from previous meals.
You enter via a discreet door on Upper Brook Street, and are led into a small welcome area with a few chairs and sofas where you can peruse the menu and have a drink. The dining room is downstairs and has a very "gentleman’s club" feel, since the walls are painted dark green and in the bar area there is a globe and an array of green-upholstered armchairs that are probably fabric rather than leather. The ceiling is very low and the feel is slightly oppressive, though the tables are generously spaced. The carpet is dark blue with a pink and cream pattern, and the walls have a few abstract paintings and prints to relieve the dark green colour.
The ceiling is white and has plenty of ceiling spots, supplemented by side lamps to give an effective lighting scheme. The chairs are red with a low back, and all around the walls is banquette seating covered in green material. Dotted around the room are elegant flower displays, including a display of handsome orchids. There is no music in this temple of gastronomy. Waiters are formally dressed and the service is slick and attentive. The service is very well drilled, friendly and efficient. Each table has a perfectly ironed white linen tablecloth, and in addition to silver condiment holders there is a candle in a brass holder and also a somewhat eccentric large metal sculpture of a housefly (other tables have different animal or insect sculptures, including a frog).
Here are notes from a recent meal.
The set lunch at Le Gavroche is one of the few food bargains (relatively speaking) in London. £48 buys you a full meal including wine. To be sure, you don’t see langoustines or turbot on the lunch menu, but a lot of work goes into the dishes. Today we began with a couple of nibbles, one of foie gras and one of lobster, that both had good flavour (in particular the lobster) and texture (18/20). A nibble of a tiger prawn with guacamole and a perfectly cooked, well seasoned prawn, the guacamole a pleasant accompaniment (18/20). A taste of lobster bisque was also an example of how this soup should taste, with a rich stock and plenty of lobster taste coming through, with accurate seasoning. If you try to cook this at home you will discover that you need a lot of work and costly ingredients to make this deceptively simple dish taste anywhere near this good (18/20).
The starter proper was a mousseline of chicken, the warm mousse having at its centre Roquefort, and covered with a Hollandaise sauce. This dish had the potential to be a bit of a basket case, as Roquefort is very salty, and the dish as stated is very rich, but a clever accompaniment of slices of apple gave a much needed balancing acidity, and the Roquefort flavour was carefully controlled. The texture of the mousse was silky smooth, the chicken flavour good and this for me was a very classy piece of cooking (18/20, bordering on 19/20).
A game pie was another accomplished dish, with excellent pastry encasing a filling of venison and rabbit enriched with a little foie gras, on a bed of spinach with a superb rich sauce. The latter was made from a chicken stock initially, then enriched with the game bones, resulting in an intense but not overwhelming sauce (19/20). Cheese is from Jacques Vernier in Paris, and is delivered weekly. Gour noir is an unusual and full-flavoured goat cheese here in lovely condition, while the classics are all here: fine Beaufort, runny Epoisses, creamy Brillat Savarin (18/20). For dessert, pear sable had superb poached pears, a lovely sable biscuit, Chantilly cream and a little chocolate sauce (19/20).
Coffee is excellent, accompanied by fine chocolates and, in the only slip-up of the meal, a hard tuile. Overall I found this a superb meal, showcasing French culinary technique with the lovely chicken mousse and terrific game pie and delicate pear dessert. This was one of the best meals I have eaten at Le Gavroche, which seems to be on the border between 18/20 and 19/20 level cooking.