43 Upper Brook Street,
London W1K 7QR
Tel: 020 7408 0881
Food type: French
Nearest tube: Marble Arch
Website: Le Gavroche
There is a saying in football ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’. I think this saying can also be applied to Le Gavroche. While there are plenty of other trendier, hipper, more fashionable restaurants that pop up every day in London, Le Gavroche has stood the test of time. In fact, the restaurant will be celebrating its 50th birthday next year. While other restaurants embrace modern techniques and try to reinvent the wheel, the philosophy at Le Gavroche is to stick true to their classic roots. I think in this day and age of sous vide cooking (which is a lot easier and leads to less wastage), many chefs have forgotten how good food can be when it is cooked the old-fashioned way – you know, like on the frying pan or in the oven.
It has been a while since I have last visited Le Gavroche. Not because I have fallen out of love with the cooking here. On the contrary, getting a table here has gotten so much more difficult since Michel Roux Jr. started appearing on Masterchef Professionals. Prior to that, he had sporadically appeared on television, but had kept a relatively low profile. These days, the restaurant tends to be booked up 3 months in advance, lunch and dinner – a testimony to how effective TV appearance is, coupled with a nice, likeable personality.
The dining room has seen a very slight refurbishment with the addition of the ‘Chef’s Library’ table. This is essentially a private dining room for up to 6 guests where there is a television monitor with views of the action at the pass. Guests are served a special bespoke 6-course menu which is presented by a chef from the kitchen. This is a very interesting addition and one that I am keen to try one day. For us, mere mortals however, we had to settle for the classic menu. In keeping with tradition, the prices are only displayed for the person hosting the table. We opted for the a la carte menu with a cheeky additional course.
You can’t visit Le Gavroche without trying the Soufflé Suissesse. Given that this was my fiancée’s first visit here, it was pretty much mandatory that she tried it. The soufflé was as good as I remember it – with an unctuous, rich, cream sauce and an ethereal light and airy souffle. I dare say, that this was even better than the last time I ate it. While the souffle is nowadays often copied and seen on the menus of many other restaurants, the fact that the Rouxs had the confidence to serve it on its own without any other frivolities is what makes it so special.
For my starters, I tried another Roux classic – artichoke ‘Lucullus’. Often given the beloved nickname ‘panda’, this dish features a beautifully prepared artichoke heart at the base, stuffed with foie gras and covered with chicken mousse and black truffle. The dish is finished on the table with a madeira and truffle sauce, in abundance of course. This is one humdinger of a dish – the combination of sinfully rich foie gras is tempered only by the lightness of the chicken mousse. Of course, like any great French dish, the sauce is masterfully made. Sweet, sticky but not over-reduced. I could have just as easily ordered a bowl of the sauce and happily tucked into it with the excellent baguette they were bringing around.
This time around, I ignored the meat option for the lobster served with a lemongrass and coconut bisque. Lobster, in my opinion, is a true test of a chef’s skill. Not so much because it is an expensive ingredient but because it is often overcooked, even in 3 star kitchens. And then there is the bisque based sauce – often tepid without enough lobster flavour. The lobster here was as close to perfection as you could hope for. Silky, soft – the flesh had been barely set or as the French would put it ‘mi-cuit‘. This is precision cooking. 10 seconds more and the texture of the lobster would have been completely different. The sauce however was on a whole different planet. A nod to Thai cuisine, the lemongrass and coconut lobster sauce was perfection. Chef smartly serves the dish in a bowl with a generous amount of sauce.
At this point, my calorie count must have been close to 4,000. Oh well, you only live once and thus we indulged in some cheese. Le Gavroche has one of the most impressive cheese board which is biased towards French cheeses. I am not sure if they still keep the same supplier as when I last visited (Jacques Vernier) but the cheeses were in immaculate condition. I think part of the problem with cheese boards in London is that the restaurants do not turn around cheeses at a high enough rate than say a restaurant in France or Germany. As such some of the cheeses may be sitting on the board for days, sometimes weeks and thus not in the optimum eating condition. Le Gavroche have clearly found a very good solution to this problem – include the cheese board as part of their business lunch menu as well as their tasting menu.
And finally, I finished with a passion fruit soufflé. The Roux’s are famous for their desserts and the soufflé, served with a white chocolate ice cream was a masterclass in how to make a good one. I will just leave it as that.
Food fashions come and go. Classics have however become that simply because they have stood the test of time. The food at Le Gavroche may be labelled old-fashioned and it may not have the bling of its contemporary cousins. But it is also unpretentious, honest and above all delicious and that is why it has stood the test of time.