Read food and wine writer Brian St Pierre's review of Michelle Roux Jr's celebrated Mayfair Restaurant - Le Gavroche. Fine-dining and modern French cuisine in the heart of luxury London...
Le Gavroche Mayfair, London
Before Facebook, people used to play a game called Six Degrees of Separation, based on the idea that anyone anywhere could be connected in that many steps. Sounds quaint now. A little offshoot survives, in the form of family trees of professionally related people, like chefs. They can be useful reminders of dining rooms and foods we tend to forget because they’ve been around for a long time, while we’re chasing trends.
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In the UK, at the top of a large culinary tree, are the Roux brothers, whose restaurants trained the generation of chefs who made London the gastronomic hub it is today. In 2017 their original flagship, Le Gavroche, will be 50 years old. You still have to reserve far in advance, it is still expensive, and it’s still worth the wait and price.
Michel Roux Jr has been in charge since 1991, somewhat lightening the unreservedly classical French cooking without sacrificing the sense of luxury that, combined with precise and smoothly cheerful service, makes a meal here an occasion.
He has said his style is based on ‘deep-rooted culinary truisms’ rather than the shock and awe and deconstruction presented by many younger chefs. So, sweetbreads in mushroom-cream sauce embody the regal tailoring of silk and velvet, while a thick slice of turbot cooked on the bone, rich and tender, is refreshed by flavour spikes of carrots, turnips, and radishes and an infusion of chive butter. Braised smoked pork cheek is the starting point for a mix of tastes and textures, while breast of duck roasted with five-spice owes more to affinity, intuition and imagination than to south-eastern Asia.
There are soufflés savoury and sweet, lobster several ways, foie gras galore, and are presented with a comforting sense of unforced, unaffected hospitality. (Nicely shored up by what has somehow become an anomaly, an injunction against the use of mobile phones.)
The wine cellar is vast, built up over the years, and mainly French; the list runs to 54 pages and includes 50 by the glass, dozens of half-bottles and more than 100 magnums, both with a good spread of vintages. Verticals abound – stacks of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Latour, Lafite, Pétrus and several more very grand crus, but also Mas de Daumas Gassac, Dagueneau, Guigal, Chave, and other interesting supporting players from less acclaimed regions (including eight vintages of Penfolds’ Grange), with vintages going back over four or five decades.
Mark-ups on younger and less expensive wines are London standard, but older vintages are less of a push. The best strategy might be to arrive early, order a glass of wine in the cosy upstairs bar, and have a good look at the list. Then let one of the amiable sommeliers know what you’re thinking, and give them a chance to show off. You won’t regret it.
43 Upper Brook St
London W1K 7QR
+44 (0)20 7408 0881
Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday
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