Le Gavroche has of course been a landmark of the London food scene for 43 years but against the backdrop of the rise of new Michelin 2 star venues such as The Ledbury, is Le Gavroche still food relevant or merely another Mayfair hedge fund manager name dropping opportunity? In our view, Le Gavroche lacked the innovation to be considered original or the perfection of the classics to be two star traditional and as such, it offers a ‘stuck in the middle’ proposition. Considering the price point and its reputation, this just doesn’t seem good enough.
My own prejudice prior to our lunch of Le Gavroche stems from many years ago when an overcooked macaroni cheese appeared one lunchtime alongside my beef fillet; being a Michelin neophyte at the time, I had no desire to challenge the chef and risk a set of Wusthofs being thrown at my head so let it pass but the memory lingered. This time round, while there were no significant errors, it just didn’t come together as a whole; don’t get me wrong, it’s good, it’s just not great but when you go the legendry Gavroche, greatness is what you expect.
Hands up, I still find the atmosphere in the bar insipid but the dining room itself was larger and more airy than I remember despite the lack of windows. Our table was comfortable and appropriately spaced from other diners. Absent windows, there’s plenty of space for art/pictures/awards on the wall which in turn has been duly filled with a fascinating collection and we would have loved to have more freedom to browse though of course it’s a bit difficult when you have to lean over another diners head to read the inscriptions. Overall though, despite being my third time there, I was pleasantly re-surprised.
We enjoyed the amuse bouche in the bar with a glass of champagne though a thick mushroom velouté topped with a cheese straw and no spoon left us wondering the best way to approach the dish. Too thick to drink, I spooned it out on the cheese straw which groaned and snapped under the load leaving me to use the napkin to restore Le Gavroche’s sofa to its former glory. Don’t tell them but I think I got away with it.
The first course at the table was a beetroot cured Pollock sashimi with a mango dressing and king prawn, served with a glass of Sake (which I once mistook for water and got more than I bargained for). A tasty dish, and a good way to open the meal, it’s not though sufficiently differentiated on the plate from lesser establishments. Furthermore, while tasty, the Pollock and prawn were lost if combined with the mango dressing at which point it could have been anything. The mango teased the taste buds but it certainly could have respected the major ingredients more.
But next up is the highlight of the meal, but a dish we continue to debate – the cheese soufflé cooked on double cream. It is perhaps the most famous dish on the menu, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it, I mean, really enjoyed it but with cheese and double cream, are we just enjoying the sheer indulgence? In one sense, the dish was crude and the cream had moments of rawness. Overall, it perhaps even lacked depth but we liked it, in fact, it was damn good. In some sense, you never want it to finish despite the sheer richness of the dish but you know that you can’t eat a daddy bear portion of this and expect to finish the further six courses that are to follow. Accompanied by a Champagne Martel “Cuvée Victoire” 1998, this was indulgence heaven and that perhaps is the point. This dish brings out your inner child, the part of you that wanted to use gold top milk on your cereal before you were told that i) it’s too expensive, and ii) semi-skimmed is better for you and so were never allowed. Well now you can, here, uncle Michel is saying it’s okay, go on, have some and when you do, it’s so tasty it’s worth it and while so many things in life fall short, this doesn’t. Does it make it a two star dish? That’s somewhat less clear.
Following the soufflé was wild salmon with almonds, asparagus, ham and garlic crisps. We have some criticism of the dish such as the garlic crisps having little taste of garlic and combinations of textures such as a crisped fish skin, crisped ham served with potato crisp, but overall it was, well, okay. Perhaps not to our taste we just felt that some of the menu momentum had been lost but there’s enough to come to shrug this off.
The ‘main’ course was a perfectly proportioned loin of lamb with sweatbreads, fresh peas and mint. We debated whether the lamb was cooked sous vide given the consistency of colour but speaking to Emmanuel Landré, general manager after, he assured us that nothing was cooked sous vide at Le Gavroche. Of course. While the lamb was a little tough to cut, the flavours flowed through and the dish worked well.
Later, as we reflected on the sous vide comment, Mrs CC suggested that ‘I am not sure being stuck in the middle ages is something to brag about’. Sure, sous vide is becoming a kitchen ubiquity but is it a fashion or does it add something in its own right to the food (without taking anything away)? We’re huge fans of the process having enjoyed sous vide cooking both out and at home and a seeming refusal to adopt a process merely because i) it wasn’t the thing in 1967 when Le Gavroche opened, and ii) everybody else has, seems more churlish than quaint.
Cheeses followed, more Brillat Savarin and some wonderfully named ‘Stinking Bishop’ as well as some adequately smelly blue before a desert of caramel covered meringue, vanilla cream and poached strawberries. Light and sweet, it was perhaps overly sweet rendering it the dish one of the less memorable moments of the meal. Petit fours followed.
Overall, this was a good meal, a tasty meal but at the end of the day, an insufficient meal, insufficient in the sense that we wont remember the meal as a whole as one of the greats. Only perhaps the cheese soufflé as an individual dish might rate as a truly great plate and yet this too is flawed. And versus new restaurants like Bar Boulud, or Koffmann’s, in truth, we’d rather be there – no stars (yet), better food and better value. If those two names are too casual or too bistro for you, and you want the name and the stars to impress your boss/client/mistress, again, Marcus Wareing will deliver more. Le Gavroche is a landmark and like all landmarks, it’s worth a visit, and for many, there will be elements of nostalgia and familiarity, but beyond that, the London restaurant scene has come a long way since 1967 while Le Gavroche it seems to us remains rooted in the past.