43 Upper Brook Street,
London W1K 7QR
Tel: 020 7408 0881
Food type: French
Food rating: 8/10
Nearest tube: Marble Arch
Website: Le Gavroche
My 26th Birthday has come and gone without too much fuss. I am a year older and a lot more senile now. In between that, J took me to Le Gavroche for an early birthday dinner to celebrate my impending need for a knee replacement.
Le Gavroche is a grand old dining institution in London. Opened in the 60’s by the Legendary Michel and Albert Roux, Le Gavroche was the first British restaurant to earn the full three Michelin star award. Michel and Albert Roux have since moved to Bray where they run the three star Waterside Inn, but they have left the restaurant in the good hands of Michel Roux Jr. who became Chef de Cuisine in 1991. Michel Roux Jr. has reinvented many of the older classics and updated them with his take on Asian and Mediterranean flavours. Today, Le Gavroche holds ‘only’ two Michelin stars but it is no less grander than it was before. Michel Roux Jr. plays are more ambassadorial role with Rachel Humphreys as Head Chef. Incidentally, legendary Maitre d’, Silvano Giraldin retired in August 2008 and Emmanuel Landre promoted to the position of general manager. Silvano now holds a directorial role here.
You enter the restaurant via the entrance on Upper Brook Street. To gain access, we had to ring the doorbell and were swiftly greeted by the receptionist. We were led to the bar area where we got to enjoy a glass of bubbly and nibble on some macadamia nuts. There were 7 different champagnes available by glass priced between £10 to £25. Speaking of prices, it was at this point we were presented with menus. However, Le Gavroche is very old-school in that they have two separate sets of menu – ones with prices for men and ones without for women. Of course, seeing as I was the birthday boy and I was being treated, I received the one without prices while J sweated at the sight of the prices. (I naturally have no idea how much the dinner cost). As well as the a la carte menu which offers up some of the classics, there is the daily specials (chef propose menu) as well as the 9 course tasting menu (menu exceptionnel). After much deliberation, we opted for the tasting menu although we made one substitution, exchanging beef for rabbit.
The wine list is a lenghty tome with very good growers although prices are fairly high but still reasonable. The list is naturally strong in French wines. The restaurant offers wine pairing with the tasting menu and also have a beer tasting list available. Ultimately, we settled for a half bottle of ’99 Alsace Riesling and a 2004 Chateau Talbot.
Crispy Crab Claws and Smoked Haddock Tart
We were presented with some canapes consisting of Crispy Crab Claws and Smoked Haddock Tart while we were deciding on what to eat. While I was unable to try the crab (for allergy reasons), the haddock tart was simply a joy to eat. The pastry was buttery yet light with the firm texture of the lightly smoked haddock coming through. The haddock was lightly dressed with chives with the onion flavour giving added complexity to the canape. (8/10)
After finishing our apperitif and settling on our food and wine, we were whisked to the dining area which is located at the basement. The low ceiling dining room is spacious tables spaced quite far apart. The walls are a dark green and adorned with various paintings and caricatures as well as fresh flowers. Each table is draped with a white table cloth with nary a crease in sight. An individual sculpture (a pigeon in our case) adorns each table. Cutlery here is also personalized with the mini-sculpture of Le Gavroche (the street urchin from les Miserables) on the handle. Wine was meticulously decanted at our table over a lighted candle to check for sediments.
Bread was a choice of rye, baguette, mixed cereal & raisin or country roll and were generally very well made. Bread is sourced from Bagatelle but were very enjoyable. In particular, the country roll which was light and airy was a favourite of J. (7/10)
Petite Salad de Homard a la Mangue et Citron Vert
Our first course was a Lobster Salad with Mango, Avocado, Basil and Lime. Slices of lobster tail were interspersed sweet, juicy cubes of mango and avocado presented elegantly on top of an endive leaf. Around it were dotted 3 spheres of the basil and lime mayonnaise. This dish, whilst simplistic was executed perfectly with the perfectly poached lobster maintaining all of its flavours as well as remaining tender to eat. The combination of mango and avocado is a classic one yet here the fruit was carefully selected such that they were not only sweet but had a nice firm texture to it. This was carefully balanced by the basil and lime dressing which lifted all the flavours on the dish. (9/10)
Second course was their famous Souffle Suissesse. This is a twice cooked cheese souffle on double cream. Trust me when I say that its reputation was well justified. Despite the use of mountains of Gruyere cheese and cooking it in a clot inducing amount of double cream (each spoonful of this delight is rumoured to weigh in at a hefty 1000 calories), the souffle was as light as a feather. It was light eating a cloud with pockets of little air bubbles interspersed in between. Each mouthful released a small burst of salty cheese which was calmed down by the rich cream. (10/10)
Coquille St. Jacques Grillee, Compote d’ Aubergine, et Fleur de Fenouil
To follow was a fish course consisting of a Grilled Diver Caught Scallop, Spicy Aubergine, Fennel Pollen and Parsley Coulis. This was my least favourite dish of the night although it was still skillfully executed. The scallop was correctly cooked with the char-grilling adding a smoky flavour to it. The aubergine was silky and creamy although the use of mustard seeds to spice it up was rather to subtle for me. (Admittedly, I was recovering from a flu so my taste might have been slightly impaired) The scallop were accompanied by some watercress which added a peppery edge to the dish. The dish was also garnished with a beetroot crisp which tasted a bit like the tapioca crisps I had as a kid. A few swirls of parsley coulis finished off the dish alongside a sprinkling of the fennel pollen. Not too sure what the fennel pollen added to the dish as a whole. By themselves, they had a slight sweetness to it with a mild-aniseedy flavour, although this was lost amongst the aubergine and the cress. (6/10)
Escalope de Foie Gras Chaud aux Raisins et Pastilla a la Cannelle
If I was slightly disappointed by my last course, the next course more than made up for it. I have previously been complaining that I was quite disillusioned when ordering Foie Gras because they often turned out to be a let down in terms of taste. The Hot Foie Gras here, served with a Crispy Pancake of Duck Flavoured with Cinnammon was simply tantalizing. The fatty liver cooked the way all foie gras should be – crisp, almost crunchy on the outside with a molten, liquid interior. The duck pancake clearly draws from the British love for crispy aromatic duck (which incidentally was invented by the Chinese restaurateurs in the UK as a substitute for Peking duck). Instead of serving the shredded duck meat in a steamed pancake, the parcel is fried to resemble a giant wonton. The oversized duck wonton was presented with abundant sprinkling of icing sugar. While the duck pancake was slightly dry on its own, it worked remarkably well with the liquid foie gras and the sweet duck just. One thing though – beware of the innocent looking grape sitting atop the foie. That small grape is soaked in alcohol which could knock you out (or clear your nostrils) if you are not careful. (9/10)
Rable de Lapin et Galette au Parmesan
Our mains were a Roast Saddle of Rabbit with Crispy Potatoes and Parmesan. The rabbit was served together with its kidneys alongside a mixture of baby artichokes and girolles. This set atop the crispy potatoes which was composed of thin strips similar to that of a rosti. All this was topped by a parmesan galette (or crisp if you like). The rabbit jus was poured at tableside. The rabbit was perfectly cooked and was soft and tender whilst remaining juicy. I particularly liked the addition of kidneys to the dish as it provided a rich bite to this light dish. Overall though, this was a good dish rather than something truly memorable. (6/10)
La Plateau de Fromages Affines
Next up was the cheese course. The cheese board was a mixture of British and French Cheese. The french cheese is sourced from Jacques Vernier in Paris while British cheese were from the Cheeseboard in Greenwich. I tried a amongst others a Brie, Crotin and Bleu d’ Auberge. The cheeses were generally in a uniform good condition (8/10). Cheeses were served with Dehydrated Raisins, Walnut Bread, Celery and Quince Jelly.
Truffle Chocolat Amedei au Rhum Brun et Tuile aux Pralines de Lyon
A pre-dessert consisted of a Rich Amedei Chocolate Truffle Scented with Rum and Praline Crisp. The tiny chocolate truffle was rich in cocoa goodness, packing a significant punch of rum. The crisp was wafer thin, dotted with pink sugared praline. While this dessert was very well made, it was not my cup of tea – I am not the biggest fan of chocolate but at least this showed some innovation instead of the conventional use of fruits. (6/10)
Tarte Tatin aux Pomme et Glace a la Vanilla de Madagascar
Our final dessert was the classic Apple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream. The petit apple tart was garnished with the vanilla husk with generous amount of caramel drizzled around it. A more than generous scoop of Madagascar Vanilla Ice cream, loaded with dark specks of vanilla seeds, was presented to us at our table. The tarte tatin was simply glorious – the apple was cooked down perfectly absorbing all the rich caramel. This was accompanied by buttery puff pastry which was moist having been drenched in the caramel. (8/10)
Canelé, Macarons de Café, Groseilles Vertes Sucrées and Tuiles Poivre Noir et Sésame
Passion Fruit Jelly and Nougat
We finished our meal with Tea and some Petit Fours. This included Canelé, Macarons de Café, Groseilles Vertes Sucrées and Tuiles Poivre Noir et Sésame. Additional friandise were also brought to our table in the form Passion Fruit Jelly and Nougat. However, at this point, we were so full we were about to pop and had to forgo all these lovely goodies. A shame really as they looked too good to eat.
My experience at Le Gavroche was simply a joy from start to finish. From the first moment we stepped into the hallowed hallways until they bid us ‘au revoir’, the level of service was impeccable. I noted a very high attention to detail. For example, when I dropped my work by accident, it was very quickly spotted and a new one was quickly on its way.
Staff were friendly without an air of snootiness associated with French waiters. At all times, they were very accommodating to our requests – when we wished to change the main course in our tasting menu from beef to rabbit this was met with a very positive ‘Of course sir, no problem at all.’ During the course of the dinner, I was also very fortunate to meet the legendary Michel Roux Jr. himself who personally wished me a Happy Birthday and signed a copy of the menu for me. Despite all his fame, it has to be said he was a model of the perfect gentlemen.
Prior to my visit, I entertained the idea of going to Le Gavroche with great trepidation – not only because my previous two michelin star experience was a big letdown unlike no idea, but also because of its huge reputation. I can safely say, my first visit to Le Gavroche not only met all my expectations but in many cases surpassed them.