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Roussillon

16 St. Barnabas Street, Pimlico, London, England, SW1W 8PE, United Kingdom

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Sadly, Roussillon closed in 2012. My last meal here was in November 2011, as follows.

The kitchen is now in the hands of Shane Hughes, who recently moved here from Ynyshir Hall. Shane trained at The Connaught in 1996 before moving to The Landmark and then (now defunct) Juniper, then in 2003 to Whatley Manor, and later to Le Poussin before becoming head chef of Ynyshir Hall in 2006. At this stage the menu retains its classical feel, while the full vegetarian tasting menu which Roussillon has become well known for is retained.

Although the wine list here is extensive (especially in its coverage of the south west of France), mark-ups can be fierce. There were some modestly priced choices, such as Les Cadoles 2009 Pinot Noir at £32 for a wine you can buy in a shop for around £9, and there are plenty of choices under £40. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was £59 compared to a shop price of £16, while Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc 2008 was a hefty £85 for a wine you can find for £22, and Nuits St Georges Clos des Corvee Pagets 2001 was £175 for a wine you can pick up for £52. Things were no more generous at the higher end of the list, with Richebourg Grand Cru from Domaine Gros 1999 at a steep £950 for a wine you can buy retail for £273.

We opted for the tasting menu at £75 (the vegetarian version is £65). Nibbles were quail egg with hollandaise sauce, tomato and black truffle (pleasant) and shrimp with sesame seeds and toast, which was quite salty (overall maybe just about 15/20 for the nibbles). Bread continues to be made in the kitchen and was good. French onion soup served in a teacup was rich and enjoyable, nicely seasoned (15/20). Pigs head and langoustine consisted of a single, tender and just cooked langoustine served with thin slices of pigs head and pumpkin seed oil with good artichokes but an oddly tasteless carrot (15/20).

The best dish of the evening was foie gras terrine with beetroot mousse and pieces of beetroot. The terrine was smooth in texture with deep livery flavour, the beetroot working well as an earthy contrast to the richness of the foie gras (easily 16/20). At this point I tried one of the vegetarian options, the Parmesan gnocchi with parsnip cream, rocket and fennel, presented on a slate. The main issue here was the texture of the gnocchi, which was a little on the soggy side; by comparison with the gnocchi at Zafferano, for example, it was rather ordinary (14/20).

Mallard, red cabbage and swede was cooked pink and served as a breast and also as confit. This was clearly a wild bird, as bits of shot were embedded in the flesh. The red cabbage was a little overcooked for my taste, but the confit was tender (15/20). Exotic fruit salad with lemon mousse and white chocolate was refreshing and enjoyable (15/20). This was followed by the richer warm treacle pudding with walnut custard and orange confit with an oddly soggy banana crisp (15/20 if I ignore the soggy tuile). Coffee was excellent and double espresso was served in a decent sized measure, with good petit fours. Service was excellent all evening. Overall this was certainly a strong 15/20 level meal, though for me not quite yet in 16/20 territory in enough places to nudge the mark up.

What follows are notes from an October 2010 meal.

Situated near the river in a quiet part of Pimlico, this unassuming restaurant has attracted one Michelin star. The dining room itself has an unusual shape. One half has a curved bay window matched by a crescent-shaped set of banquettes opposite. The other part of the room is conventionally shaped. There is a dark bottle green carpet, low white ceiling and cream walls adorned with watercolours of assorted food. Lighting is from generous natural light from the large windows (which have purple curtains), supplemented by directed ceiling spots and a single night-light on each table. Each table has crisp white linen, with a single orchid in addition to the night light. There is a single wood-panelled mirror on one wall.

Daniel Gill is the new head chef at Roussillon (Alexis Gauthier having moved on to open his own restaurant in Soho), after a position as sous chef at Midsummer House in Cambridge and training stints at the Manoir au Quat’ Saisons and Waterside Inn. The menu is classical French with a few modern British touches, the tasting menu weighing in at £78 (the vegetarian version at £65), while from the a la carte three courses cost £60.

The meal began with a plate of nibbles. Confit duck rillette was tasty, while Parmesan shortbread had good texture and plenty of Parmesan flavour. Sea bass tartare with cucumber and radish on a crouton worked well, while Bloody Mary and avocado dip was nicely spicy (16/20). Roussillon has long made its own bread, which is to be applauded. The person that used to do the bread has moved on recently though, and this shows. Tomato bread was good, and the bacon bread tasted of bacon, but cheese and chive bread was rather chewy in texture, as was the brown, though the baguette was fine (15/20 overall). I think this is just a case of the new team needing a bit more practice.

The 35 page wine list has good global coverage, and is naturally strong on the south west of France, with wines such as Jurancon Clos Lapeyre 2008 from Jean Bernard Larrieu at £38 compared to a retail price of around a tenner. From the rest of the list choices include Haut-Brisson “La Grave” 2001 from St Emilion at £58 for a wine that retails at around £20, Chateau Troplong Mondot 1996 at £142 compared to a shop price of around £43, or Blanc Fume 2008 from the tragically deceased Didier Dagenau at £84 for a wine that will set you back about £33 to buy. We drank Marcel Deiss 2008 Riesling, which was listed at £53 for a wine that costs £18. In general mark-ups are not excessive for a restaurant of this level in London, and there are some wines tucked away that are more kindly priced than others, so let the knowledgeable Hungarian sommelier guide you.

An amuse-bouche of lobster salad with orange and grapefruit dressing was topped with dark chocolate shavings. The lobster was tender and the citrus dressing was well-judged and an excellent match for the lobster; I found the chocolate added a bitterness that somewhat detracted from, rather than added to, the overall dish – sometimes less is more (15/20, but I would have scored 16/20 if they had omitted the chocolate).

My wife’s starter was mackerel with cock crab (male crabs have slightly more white meat than the female and arguably better flavour), the mackerel pan-fried and with a garnish of roast pineapple and fennel. Perhaps my recent trip to Japan spoiled me, but I just didn’t find either the mackerel or crab to be of particularly high quality, though the dish was pleasant enough (15/20).

There were no quality concerns about my starter of a pair of hand-dived Scottish scallops, served with apple puree and slivers of fresh apple and ginger, with a little jus around the edge of the plate. Conceptually this dish was for me hard to improve, as the apple gives a nice acidic balance to the natural sweetness of the scallops, and in this case the simplicity of the dish allows the main ingredient to be properly showcased. Of course in such a case it is important that the scallops themselves are of high quality and that they are cooked properly, and this seemingly simple set of requirements seems to elude a disturbing number of high end kitchens in the UK. In this case the scallops were beautiful, plump and sweet, and were seared perfectly, cooked just through but no more (easily 18/20).

Stone bass was pan-fried and served with a Scottish langoustine, with kohlrabi and pistachio puree, red pepper and cardamom. The bass had good flavour and was timed well, and the langoustine also carefully cooked and showing off its lovely natural flavour (16/20). My main course of Iberico pork involved both the shoulder (char grilled) and braised pork cheek, with toasted pine nut puree, artichoke a la Grecque, black olives and rocket. The pork had good flavour and was cooked properly, and the artichoke was nice, but I felt the overall effect was a little dry – for me the dish was crying out for a sauce (15/20).

A pre-dessert of Mojito with mint jelly, brown sugar and Mojito foam didn’t really work for me; mint is such a strong taste that it is difficult to get right, and here it was too strong (13/20). My dessert was fresh blackberry mousse and jelly with dark chocolate sorbet decorated with a little gold leaf (I suspect this is a little nod to the croustillant dish, originally from Louis XV in Monaco, that the previous chef used to make). This was very enjoyable, the fruit of good quality and the chocolate rich and enticing. A slight presentation error was that the plate had been allowed to stand for too long, so the sorbet had partly melted by the time it was delivered (15/20).

Gingerbread biscuit and caramelised apple was served with vanilla cream and apple sorbet. This was a nice dish conceptually, but somehow it lacked excitement when it arrived; there was nothing that was a glaring error, merely that the elements were executed competently rather than with the skill of a top end pastry chef (15/20). Petit fours were excellent soft honey, whisky and raising Madeleines, a violet marshmallow, strawberry and chocolate ganache, pineapple and saffron jelly and chocolate and pistachio sponge; the Madeleines were a cut above the others, which were around 15/20 level. Coffee was very good.

Service throughout the meal was excellent, attentive and friendly. It is always difficult when a kitchen transitions from one team to another (in this case it was not just the head chef that moved on) but overall I think the new brigade is doing a good job. There are areas to improve: the breads have slipped in standard, and I felt that the desserts were the weakest part of the meal (a common refrain in the UK I’m afraid). Ironically I felt that under the old regime the best parts of the meal were the breads and the desserts, and now things seems to have switched round, but Daniel Gill seems to be doing a good job with the savoury courses. This was still a most enjoyable meal, and for me on the border between 15/20 and 16/20 level overall, but with the memory of the beautiful scallops to keep me happy. The bill came to £125 a head.

The notes below are from May 2008, and are purely of historical interest.

Three courses are £55, and there is a seven course vegetarian tasting menu for £60.  The wine list is extensive and quite fairly priced; it is especially deep in choices from the south of France. For me the strengths here are the great bread and the desserts, along with attentive service. Somehow the starters and main courses never seem to quite reach the level of the desserts. Here are notes from my most recent meal.

For nibbles, delicate chickpea beignets were served in stick shape to dip into a slightly spiced grain mustard sauce (17/20).  A starter of a trio of sesame crusted langoustines was a disappointment, the langoustines badly overcooked, with a cotton wool texture. They were served with sweet and sour lightly spiced pieces of bell peppers, with a shellfish and watercress jus (13/20). Alexis Gauthier is a very thoughful chef, which makes this kind of slip surprising.  Better was a light velouté of new seasons peas and courgettes, poured at the table around a cylinder of crab seasoned with lime and mint, topped with crisp artichokes and radishes; the crab was fresh and the velouté retained a strong flavour of the good peas and courgettes (15/20). 

Lightly smoked organic salmon was served with white asparagus meuniere and sautéed green chard, with a light velouté of fish (15/20). A fillet of turbot had excellent flavour, pan-fried and served with caramelised shallots with a light soy sauce and a smear of a reduced sauce of fish stock and butter (16/20). A plate of seasonal vegetables (peas, carrots, turnips,…) with mixed leaves was lightly cooked and had more taste than is usual from vegetables in London restaurants (16/20). Jersey Royal potatoes were cooked a fraction long for me but still tasted excellent (15/20). 

Pre-dessert of elderflower sorbet was very refreshing, topped with a single raspberry and a little twig of chocolate (17/20).  A seasonal dessert of mango parfait topped with mango ice cream and surrounded by a ring of mango coulis was made with Alphonso mangoes, which are in season only for a month or so in mid May through June; I was a bit surprised that the tremendous fragrance of the Alphonso mangoes did not come through a little more, but this was still well made (16/20). The “Louis XV croustillant” is a classic dessert that the customer at Louis XV in Monaco never allow to leave the menu, and the rendition of it here is very good, not surprising given that the head chef here was pastry chef at Louis XV. The biscuit base resembles a classy Kit Kat, but the layer of almost but not quite liquid dark chocolate is what makes this so lovely (18/20). Coffee is extremely good (18/20) served with, amongst other petit fours, good chocolate truffles and a moist financier. Service was extremely good this evening, our French waitress attentive and helpful, as were all the staff.

Below are notes from a 2007 meal.

We started with Mrs Beeton’s Prince of Wales soup, a simple veal consommé that had excellent rich taste (16/20). Next was a single raviolo of cepes and bone marrow, topped with grated Cheshire cheese and resting in a pool of beef jus. The pasta had good texture and the cepes were fine (14/20). The menu offered mostly classic French cooking, with the odd modern touch. Three courses cost £48, and there are length tasting menus at £70 (or £60 for vegetarian). The wine list is considerable in scope, weighing in at 73 pages, though some pages have just a few wines. As one might expect from the name of the restaurant, the wine list has a heavy slant towards the south west of France. Although it has a wide selection from around the world, some of the other areas are perhaps less well addressed than they might be. For example Alsace has no less than three Vendange Tardives wines yet only the same number of dry wines. Germany has five rather obscure wines, while the Italian section misses out Friuli as an area. The classic areas of France are not neglected, with for example Guigal La Londonne 1979 at £550 (retail price £225). Spain has at the top end Vega Sicilia Unico 1991 for £298 (£137 retail). At the mortal end of the scale, Tim Knappstein Semillo 2000 is £32 (retail £11). The sommelier was excellent, knowing both his list and what we had ordered (which is more than can be said than the sommelier at the Waterside Inn a couple of weeks ago). There is no house wine as such, but I saw one wine at £18. There are nine red and nine white wines by the glass, and six pages of dessert wines. Service was extremely good throughout the evening, attentive and friendly.

The bread is baked by the restaurant and is excellent. The following rolls were offered: black olive, bacon and onion, black pudding, wholemeal, baguette, cheese and garlic and finally cumin. The texture and seasoning were very good, and the bread extremely fresh (17/20 bread). Initial nibbles were a mini burger of foie gras pate, whose pate was tasty but whose "bun" was oddly hard given the otherwise exemplary bread (15/20). Far better were chickpea beignet sticks with remarkably delicate texture, served with a grain mustard sauce (18/20). This was followed a little later by further nibbles. I had a rather ordinary set of vegetables: a tender turnip and carrot and a rather chewy tomato confit (14/20) which contrasted with a tender raviolo of langoustine with morel jus (16/20).

My starter was a salad of wild garlic leaves with baby broad beans. Alongside the central pile of salad were two tender scallops and two superb langoustines cooked in their shells; the latter were very fresh and beautifully cooked. Overall 17/20, but the langoustines themselves were magnificent at 18/20. This dish was even better than gnocchi of ricotta, which had pleasing texture (which so often escapes gnocchi), served with vegetables (fennel, celery, carrot, courgettes) and a sherry vinegar reduction, with a Roquefort tuile as garnish (16/20).

For main course sea bass was rather below the standard of the rest of the meal. Though pleasant, the fillet was cooked for a fraction too long, with girolles that were rather chewy. This was accompanied by warm cos lettuce and very tender caramelised baby onions (14/20). Better was fillet of beef resting in a smear of the cooking juices, with some tender purple artichokes and a few tiny pieces of black olive, garnished with a little thyme. The beef was of high quality and correctly cooked, the vegetables tender (16/20). As a side order we had excellent mash that was very creamy in texture, over which had been poured a little veal jus (a nice addition unless you are vegetarian). A side order of vegetables included tender peas, turnip and more lettuce.

The cheese board is strictly French, and is supplied by an obscure independent company called Mange Tout, who deliver the cheese from France twice weekly. The 24 cheeses on offer were in very good condition, for example Epoisses that was neither immature not too far gone, good Brie and ripe Camembert and Munster; there were also rare cheese like Bleu de Jex from the French Alps (17/20). The cheese is served with a few small slices of plain white bread. The waiter knew his cheeses very well, a rarity in the UK.

A pre-dessert is a glass of passion fruit mousse topped with raspberry coulis. Though pleasant in texture, the mousse lacked incisive passion fruit taste (15/20). For dessert a soufflé of chocolate had texture that was a little grainy, and lacked the intense chocolate flavour than the best examples should have (15/20). This was served with a pleasant Baileys ice cream.

However the dish of the night is a perennial classic here, the "Louis XV". It should be explained that the chef here worked for some time as a pastry chef at 3 star Michelin restaurant Louis XV in Monaco. Perhaps my favourite dessert there is the chocolate croustillant, a deceptively simple dish with a biscuit base covered in dark chocolate that is almost liquid, decorated with a swirl of gold leaf. Alexis Gauthier has remembered his training well, and here produces a version different in shape (circular instead of rectangular) but virtually as good in taste and texture, using the traditional Weiss French chocolate from St Etienne. The texture of the chocolate is remarkable, melting as it hits the tongue, yet the crunchy biscuit base a pleasing contrast to the richness of the chocolate. This is a classic dish, very well rendered here (18/20).

Coffee is high class, both filter and espresso (17/20). I should mention that a full cup of espresso was served, which is more than happens at many restaurants these days. I had a second cup and no "supplement" appeared on the bill (unlike the Vineyard a few days before). This is served with a little plate of petit fours: a tart of raspberries which had pastry that was little soggy, marshmallow with elderflower, a capable chocolate truffle, an excellent white chocolate coated with almonds and a almond "financier" (comfortably 16/20).

Finally, brief notes from a 2005 meal. 

The best dish was caramelised Dublin Bay prawns, with lovely delicate taste, served with an unusual fondant artichoke and a limited smear of good crustacean sauce (17/20). Pan fried fillet of Highland venison was very tender indeed (supposedly this was wild venison, "hung for 18 days") served with caramelised pumpkin, a Connice pear with a smooth celeriac and truffle puree (17/20). A small selection of French cheese in decent condition followed (15/20) and then a good crunchy chocolate and praline concoction, with high quality chocolate (15/20). Service was friendly and the bread was excellent – especially some lovely little walnut rolls with excellent texture and taste (17/20 bread).

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  • Vanessa

    I went to Roussillon last friday and had the 4-course menu. It was very disappointing. The portions were minuscule which was a shame as the cooking was fine. The fact that they gave us macarons to take away at the end of dinner did not compensate for our frustration.

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