What follows are notes from a meal in April 2004.
The bread was a choice of either white, brown or rye rolls, and this was served warm, with good texture, balanced seasoning and reasonable flavour (16/20). The wine list was extensive and featured fine growers from across the world, though the wine list was heavily weighted towards France. A basic Taittinger NV was £62, though 1997 Cristal was a relatively less excessive £230. Trimbach Cuvee Frederich Emile 1998 is £55, though a Jermann Pinot Grigio could be obtained for a relatively fair £38. A bargain was the 1998 Torres Mas La Plana at £55. The list has plenty of halves and dessert wines.
As an initial amuse-bouche we received a little foie gras pate on brown toast, which had velvety texture and strong foie gras flavour (17/20). Even better was a small piece of smoked eel served in a pastry case with green cabbage. The eel was superb, the smoky taste neatly offset by the earthiness of the lightly cooked cabbage, while the pastry case was made from extremely light, delicate pastry. The ingredients were harmonious and the components excellent, so I really have no choice but to score this 20/20.
A second nibble was a single deep-fried langoustine served on a base of avocado with balsamic dressing. The langoustine was of the highest quality and perfectly timed, while the idea of spiking the avocado with balsamic was inspired as the latter cut through the richness of the avocado. I recently had a similar dish at the 3 star Michelin Lucas Carton in Paris, and this version was better (19/20).
My companion had half a dozen langoustines served out of their shell, with a single langoustine shell as garnish. The shellfish rested in a buttery sauce laced with a little ginger, and were offered with finely diced tomato and cucumber and a few baby spinach leaves. The langoustines were generally carefully cooked, though one was oddly out of line with the others and was slightly overcooked. The butter sauce was reduced with white wine, which gave enough acidity to cut through the richness of the butter, and the sparing use of ginger added a welcome dimension to the dish (18/20).
I selected the seared tuna, served prettily as four squares of tuna alongside four matching slices of chorizo, with a fan of four asparagus spears. This was served on a black plate that was decorated with a sinuous smear of excellent aioli. The tuna was of high quality and lightly cooked, just seared on the outside, while the excellent chorizo added a hint of spice to the tuna. Best of all was the asparagus, which was of the highest quality, lightly steamed with a little balsamic; the freshness of the asparagus was a good match to the richness of the tuna and the spicy zest of the chorizo (18/20).
My wife had one of the specials of the evening, fillet of wild salmon served with fennel; and a lobster sauce. The salmon had excellent flavour (which of course farmed salmon can never approach) and was timed very well, the fish being moist yet cooked through. The sauce had excellent depth of lobster flavour, and the salmon was complemented by a few tender Jerusalem artichokes, which gave an earthy balance to the richness of the sauce, as well as a velvety puree of the artichokes (18/20).
I had the fillet of beef, an impressive tower of cow topped with caramelised shallots and resting alongside a little heap of gratinated macaroni and a couple of large ceps, with a red wine sauce poured on at the table. The beef was of very high quality, tender and cooked lightly, while the sauce was a fine example of classical French cooking, gloopy and with great intensity of flavour. The ceps had fine flavour but the triumph were the shallots, beautifully caramelised (I know from personal experience that this is a difficult thing to bring off). The pasta was good, though not stunning, and I wonder whether a more classic accompaniment such as gratin Dauphinoise would have been better (18/20).
The cheese arrived on two large boards. There were no less than 36 cheeses in all. I tried a fairly ripe Camembert, an excellent St Maure that was moist rather than chalky, a good Beaufort, a ripe Epoisses and a creamy Bleu de Bresse. 17/20 for the cheeses. One flaw was that the bread served with the cheese was stale, so I resorted to biscuits, although these were clearly Carr’s water biscuits from a packet.
"Delice Glace au Tokaji Aszu" was a circle of frozen ice cream laced with the rich, sherry like flavour of the Hungarian dessert wine Tokaji Aszu, fortunately kept in careful control so as not to dominate the flavour and was remarkably light in texture. The delice rested on small pieces of marinated prunes and was topped with a single whole marinated prune. The delice was encircled by a fence of delicate biscuit tuile. The outside of the plate was garnished with piped dark chocolate and pools of prune sauce (18/20).
My passion fruit soufflé could not be faulted, an even top with the lightest, fluffiest consistency that could be hoped for. The soufflé was topped with passion fruit sauce before white chocolate ice cream was poured into the centre; the latter had smooth texture and strong chocolate flavour. At the bottom of the soufflé was a small passion fruit macaroon. The passion fruit flavour came through well in the soufflé, and the citrus taste was a good foil for the richness of the chocolate (19/20).
Both filter and espresso coffee were excellent (18/20). These were served with fine petit fours: a feather-light macaroon laced with lemon, a shortbread biscuit, a fine tuile that had just a hint of pepper, a chocolate truffle and a nut cluster of pistachios and almonds in white chocolate. Even the usual inedible Chinese gooseberry was very good here, dipped in hardened sugar syrup and the base dipped in coconut shreds. There was also a chocolate cherry, a smooth square of chocolate sponge topped with chocolate icing and a wedge of honey cake with five-spice topped with slivers of almond in buttery fudge (19/20 petit fours). As a cute touch, the petit fours involving nuts were served in a little silver dish with a squirrel as a handle (a silver squirrel that is!).
This was the meal I have always wanted at Le Gavroche but I never had. I first came here twenty one years ago, and since Albert retired, while desserts have always been a strong suit and individual dishes could be excellent, I simply have not had until tonight a meal where the kitchen was firing on all cylinders. There was always a dry fish or an overcooked piece of meat somewhere to spoil the meal, but not tonight. Here the fine technique of French cooking was demonstrated, from the superb demi-glace sauce with my beef through to the perfect soufflé. Yet also there was inventiveness: the superb eel amuse bouche and the tuna with chorizo. I have always thought Le Gavroche to be a 17/20 restaurant, but tonight was definitely a strong 18/20. Ironically Michel, who is almost always in the kitchen, was tonight away about to run the Paris marathon.