16 St Barnabas Street,
London SW1W 8PE
Tel: 020 7730 5550
Food type: French
Food rating: 7/10
Nearest tube: Victoria
This week I revisited Roussillon – one of J’s favourite restaurant. Located in a converted house in the quiet residential area of Pimlico, just a short walk from Victoria Coach station, the restaurant is one of the few hidden gems in London. Perhaps this is because of the simple, rustic approach that chef patron Alexis Gauthier adopts. Sure, you will find luxurious ingredients such as truffles and foie gras on the menu, but the flavours on each dish are clean and distinct with military-like precision.
Alexis Gauthier started his career as a chef in his native Avignon where he studied in a hotel school. Following the completion of his training, he moved to Nice in 1991 where he plyed his trade at the 2 starred Hotel Negresco.
”The basis of Ducasse’s cooking is very simple – take the best ingredients from the local area and respect them.” – Alexis Gauthier
In 1993, he moved on to work at Ducasse’s 3 starred Louis XV in Monte Carlo. It is perhaps here that Gauthier’s cooking style was developed. It is also from his time here where he had a peek at the secrets of the Louis XV croustillant – without doubt one of the world’s greatest dessert. This dessert has been a feature on the menu at Louis XV and due to its popularity has never been allowed to be taken off the carte. Moving to the US, Gauthier worked under the Strauss family in 1996 for two years. It was then that he met Andrew and James Palmer – Gauthier’s business partner for his new venture, Roussillon after impressing them with his concept in food. No vegetable was to be turned, no dish would be complicated. His mission was simple – create simple, tasty food without any fuss.
Our visit for lunch included a Menu Dejeuneur priced at £35 for 3 courses inclusive of 1/2 a bottle of wine. There is an abbreviated Tasting Menu priced at £58 for 6 courses and the popular Menu Legumes at £45. The dinner tasting menu is £75 for 8 courses and £65 for the menu Legumes. Three courses from the ALC menu will set you back £55. An interesting thing to note is that the vegetable tasting menu makes use of meat jus and fish stocks in some dishes. Gauthier believes that the use of these elements help bring out the flavour of certain vegetables. I swear one of these days I will plump for the vegetables menu.
Chickpea Beignet & Wholegrain Mustard Dip; Marinated Sea Bass & Cucumber
Some nibbles were brought to us while we were per-using the menu. First off were some chickpea beignets – the same ones that we were served a year ago – with some wholegrain mustard dip. These ultra-light, ultra crisp, posh ‘french fries’ arrived piping hot with nary a spot of grease in sight and were much better than the ones I had tried previously. The seasoning, spot-on. A second nibble of marinated Sea bass and cucumber was less exciting – the clean flavours of the sea bass and cucumber complementing each other well although perhaps lacking an acidic element to lift this above the realms of ‘enjoyable’. (6/10)
Bread is made from scratch and from my memory was one of the key strengths of the restaurant. From the bread selection, we tried the baguette, sun-dried tomato roll, bacon roll, wholemeal and Olive bread. The first batch arrived slightly cold, but a second batch hot off the oven (or at least having been warmed up) were very good indeed. The star of the show had to go to the sun-dried tomato bread which is J’s favourite. (She still remembers that very bread despite having dined a a bazillion other restaurants with me) (8/10)
Light Chicken & Coriander Broth, Lightly Spiced Scallop Tortellini
Our first official course was a lone tortellini (would it then be called tortellino?) filled with scallop mousse and an ethereal chicken and coriander broth. The pasta encircling the scallop was a fraction hard – the commis chef in charge of making it probably lacking the deftest of touch which would have made the tortellini memorable. Whatever my gripes with the pasta, it was very quickly forgotten with my first spoonful of the broth. The broth pretty much sums up Gauthier’s cooking – clean, clear, refreshing, rejuvenating. Each meaty ounce of chicken, each grassy note of the coriander were contained in every spoonful of this umami packed broth. (6/10)
Foie Gras & Almonds, Broad Beans & Peas, Light Madeira Jus
Seared foie gras crusted with toasted almond flakes with broad beans and peas was up next. I was pretty impressed with the level of seasoning with the liver. One of my biggest complaints with the cooking is the foie gras is that cooks misjudge the amount of seasoning needed (foie gras is one of those ingredients which needs to be salted quite generously to bring out its true flavour). The presence of almonds gave the liver some much needed texture while the seasonal broad beans and peas gave it some freshness. The madeira jus could have perhaps been more intense – a little more sweetness wouldn’t have gone amiss. (6/10)
Spring Black Truffle Risotto, Parmesan & Brown Butter
Up next was one of the chef’s signature – a simple truffle risotto. Gauthier uses a few tricks in his book to help the risotto stand out from the ones you whip up at home. First, Gauthier adds brown butter (or beurre noisette) to the risotto to give it extra depth and a rich nutty flavour. To the risotto, he also enlivens it with some parmesan which gave it more body and a salty tang. Lastly, Gauthier finishes the dish off with a drizzle of veal jus to add some meaty punch. Note that I have gone so far without having talked about how the risotto tasted. In short, it was nothing short of a revelation. Each mouthful of the rich, creamy risotto savoured, each sliver of the intoxicating, earthy black truffle exploding in the mouth. While it is true that it is hard NOT to like black truffle, too many chefs try to do too much with it resulting in the loss of its inherent flavour. Yet again, simplicity is best. (8/10)
A Plate of Briddlesford Lodge Farm Veal, Glazed Yellow & Green Courgette Rounds
After the highs of the risotto, it was inevitable that I was bound to be disappointed. The plate of rose veal which followed was by no means a badly cooked dish. Its problem lies in the subject matter itself. Veal itself has a pretty subtle flavour – especially the loin which is prized more for its melt in your mouth texture. To pair with a simple cooking jus is fine but not going to be exciting. In my (humble) opinion, such a delicate meat needs a punchier sauce to help it along. The little veal kidney on the side and the braised shoulder were delectable though. (4/10)
Plate of Cheese, Tapenade & Celery
Next up was an all French cheese board, of this we tried Chaource, Fouchtra, Clacbitou, Termignon, Maroilles and my favourite, Epoisses. These were all in pretty good condition (7/10) served with a quenelle of olive tapenade and celery. Unfortunately I am unable to state from whom the supplier of the cheese is (our waiter did not know) but he did mention that two of the cheeses tried comes from a small supplier (a lady who owns a grand total of 8 cows).
Le Louis XV Crunchy Praline
To finish, the pièce de résistance – the Louis XV croustillant in all its glory. Gauthier and Gerard Virolle (who trained as a pastry chef at Louis XV) certainly remembers their training well at Louis XV and are able to reproduce this magnificent dessert in all its glory (and trust me this is a very finicky dessert to make) – right down to the St. Etienne Weiss chocolate which is used. Along with the risotto, this was certainly one of the highlights of the meal. (9/10)
Elderflower Marshmallows, Pecan Cookies, Madeleines, Dark Chocolate Truffle
A final flourish of marshmallows, cookies, madeleines and chocolate truffles completed our meal. Fine, but unspectacular. (5/10)
A year has passed and yet, if anything, the cooking at Roussillon has actually improved. There seems to be increased focus in each dish with the elements to be well thought out. With the exception of the veal main course, most of the other dishes were at a comfortable 1* level with some surpassing that. Service was pleasant and attentive.