Le Champignon Sauvage
24-28 Suffolk Road
Cheltenham GL50 2AQ
Tel. 01242 573 449
Food type: Modern French
Nearest train station: Cheltenham Spa
Website: Le Champignon Sauvage
Le Champignon Sausage, better known to the locals as ‘the champion sausage’ has been flying the gastronomic flag for Gloucester for nearly 30 years. Chef/ proprietor David Everitt-Matthias has been doing the foraging thing that is so much the rage in todays dining scene long before it was even a thing. It is almost as if he was prophetic in his cooking style, a man way ahead of his time, to include foraged food items on the plate while every one else at that time was messing around with sous vide and foams. Along with his wife, Helen (who runs front of house), Everritt-Matthias has successfully retained 2*s for more than a decade and a half. During this time, many chefs have passed through the kitchen doors, going to carve a career of their own. Alumnus include Matt Worswick and Mark Stinchcombe (winner of Masterchef Professionals 2015). In fact, when I was chatting with Phil Howard recently, he mentions that any chef coming from the kitchen here are technically very sound. David is also the rare breed of chefs who is (until this day) always there cooking in his own kitchen and has never missed a service.
We dined on a Tuesday night where the restaurant offers the standard fixed priced a la carte menu – 3 courses for £65 as well as a cheaper menu du jour for £32 (also available during lunch). There is no tasting menu available. There are around 6 options per course on the standard a la carte menu where the dishes are slightly more elaborate than the ones on the menu du jour. Selecting the dishes can be tricky though as all the items sound very appealing. The wine list does have a good selection of half bottles and if you look carefully there are some absolute gems at a very fair price. The dining room features tables that are nicely spaced apart and *gasp* table cloths. Unlike many restaurants, they maintain a sensible level of lighting such that you can actually see the food you are eating. Service here is excellent, led by an experienced front of house team, although I wish the atmosphere would have been a lot less hush-hush.
While we were browsing the menus and having a glass of champagne, a few canapés arrived. First were some savoury tuiles to be dipped in an accompanying lovage cream. This was harmless enough – lovage which can have a very strong flavour was kept in moderation here. A corn and bacon muffin had good loose crumbed texture, well seasoned and a good distinct corn flavour. The final bite, and my favourite, was a square of parmesan custard coated with chorizo crumb. The saltiness of both elements were well judged, and the umami punch of the parmesan married well with the meaty paprika hit from the chorizo. A further nibble arrived when we sat down in the dining room. Thyme jelly with a burnt onion mousse and chicken skin tuile was pleasant enough – the thyme flavour strong but balanced by the onion mousse. And who doesn’t like a bit of crispy chicken skin?
My starter was an asiette of rabbit featuring a pink and moist loin rolled in herbs, rilette of shoulder meat with whole grain mustard and rabbit offal parfait sandwiched between a sweet tuile. The rabbit was garnished with carrots in various guises – puree, pickled, jelly and slow cooked, the later having intense carrot flavour. I enjoyed the preparation of the rabbit in each way, with each element properly executed, seasoned accurately and having purpose on the plate.
For mains, I tried the patridge (likely of the grey-legged variety) roasted classically on the crown and basted in plenty of butter. Despite all the ease and consistency of sous vide cooking, there is that extra flavour dimension you get from classical roasting with butter. The partridge was beautifully moist as would be expected from a restaurant of this caliber, and to accompany it, toasted sourdough gnocchi which provided a hint of acidity and baby turnips (tops included) with its peppery and bitter notes. Instead of the traditional bacon, Welsh mountain ham is used here for the salty- fatty hit. In a way, it is a clever play on how partridge would classically be served – roasted with bacon and served with a bread sauce. Delicious.
After a quick interlude with a tiramisu pre-dessert featuring mascarpone pannacotta and coffee granita which was well made, I concluded my meal with a frozen bergamot parfait. This is an oddball dessert because it featured ingredients which on first glance may be at odds with each other. Bergamot and liquorice do not sound like the most natural of partners but they surprisingly worked together. A very refreshing end to the meal. I thought I’d also give special mention to my wife’s dessert – mango with a thai spiced cream and a thai green curry sorbet, which despite how crazy it sounded, was completely mind-blowingly good.
Although I very much enjoyed my meal at the time of dining, it is only days later, and after much reflection, do I see the true, intricate beauty in Everitt-Matthias’ cooking. Despite holding 2*s for such a long time, the restaurant continues to move with the times and the food remains contemporary despite its very classical roots. Sure there are the new tricks like microwave sponges but behind all that is a solid backbone of classical cooking and sauce making. Every single plate of food has a level of confidence and self assuredness to it. No garnish feels out of place. There are no unnecessary flowers or foams in sight. Both the partridge and the mango dessert were memorable pieces of cooking for different reasons – the partridge beautiful in its classic execution and the mango show stopping because of its out-of-the-box combinations. The cooking here may not be the most avant-garde even by today’s English standards, but by golly is it incredibly tasty.