If we’re talking famous restaurants in the UK then the name of this place is generally one of the first to come up. Le Gavroche first opened its doors on Lower Sloane Street in 1967 with brothers Albert and Michel Roux.
The restaurant then went on to become the first in Britain to be awarded the maximum of three Michelin Stars. These days Le Gavroche occupies a prime position in London’s Mayfair on Upper Brook Street and holds 2 Michelin Stars with Albert’s son Michel Roux Jr at the helm.
Getting a reservation at Le Gavroche is no easy task. Occasionally if you try your luck on the off chance of a cancellation you can get lucky. We booked our seats three months in advance for lunch. Extreme you may think but this is after all the restaurant that has had a hand in training such chefs as Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Marco Pierre White
Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of an anti-climax. The building looks just like any other in Mayfair with a simple sign above the door indicating ‘Le Gavroche’. Inside, the bar area is a strange colour of red Scottish tartan, about as far removed from a French theme as you can get.
Gentlemen are required to wear jackets and should you arrive without one, they have a sort of ‘lost property’ style area and will provide one of theirs for you to dine in. Luckily I brought my own.
Another strange part of the Gavroche experience is that the actual dining room is in the basement. As you descend down the stairs pictures of Albert, Michel and Michel Roux Jr hang proudly on the walls.
The dining room is immaculate and intimate. All thoughts of this being below ground level are quickly eradicated – that is until you realise that you have no phone signal. Menus are presented with one containing prices (usually for the gentleman or host of the table) and one without prices.
It’s a great deal if you have the menu without prices as the a la carte about gave me a heart attack. It may be a traditional way of dining in parts of France but for me I would rather have honesty across the board – especially dining in somewhere as exclusive as Mayfair without money to torch.
One other slightly underhand tactic about the menu situation at Le Gavroche is that the reasonably priced set lunch menu at £72 for three courses plus half a bottle of wine, water, coffee and petit fours is completely in French! A tactic to steer you towards the more expensive menus perhaps?
It made more sense to go with the ‘Menu Exceptionnel’ a menu of 9 courses priced at £112 without wine pairings. A half bottle of Gewurztraminer at £30 proved to be the perfect companion through our journey of French delights.
As is customary in many Michelin places, an amuse bouche was served. A couple of tart cases filled with celeriac remoulade arrived with nuggets of fried lobster. A very luxurious start to the meal.
The Souffle Suissesse has been a mainstay on the menu at Le Gavroche since the day it opened. As this was a tasting menu, I was expecting a smaller version of this class – how wrong I was.
This thing was huge! A fluffy cloud of beaten egg white and bechamel floating on a pool of double cream gratinated with gruyere cheese, not one for the cholesterol conscious. It’s so worth the extra saturated fat, this is not only a taste of history, it’s a delicious one at that.
Next up, a true French classic. Terrine of Foie Gras with Madeira Jelly and Toasted Brioche. Rich and buttery foie gras is sensational, this is as close to the quality of France that we have tasted in Britain. The jelly and toast complimented the flavours of the terrine perfectly.
Le Gavroche is not a ‘stiff’ place. Diners will actually relax and engage in conversation with you. We really enjoyed speaking to couples on the surrounding tables exchanging opinions on menu choices and dishes sampled.
I never really had ordered fish in restaurants prior to this dish. Braised Octopus with Soft Shell Crab and Sweet Tomato Salad. This was the dish that I feared most, octopus looks grim in its raw state and a salad of tomatoes wasn’t the most inspiring description, what was I doing?
As it turned out, I had massively underestimated this dish. This was absolutely delicious. I would go as far as to say that this is the best plate of food that I have ever eaten anywhere. The crab was deep fried, crispy and being soft shell, entirely edible. The octopus had a delicate texture and subtle flavour from being thinly sliced ‘carpaccio style’.
The tomato salad had been marinated in lime juice with a lime syrup giving a sweet and sour flavour. This course was simply out of this world and a pleasure to eat.
Our waitress declared the next course as her personal favourite. Stone Bass with a Pastilla of Arabian Spices. The dish arrived looking smart and simple with a portion of stone bass sitting adjacent to a sliced pastilla of rice with a stalk of baby fennel linking the two.
I had to disagree with our waitress. This dish didn’t eclipse the octopus. Saying that, it was a very good dish with subtle spicing coming from the pastilla with the stone bass well cooked. This was a few notches down in superlatives to the previous dish but still very good.
A regular sight during lunch service is watching Michel Roux Jr do a lap of the dining room. Every credit to Michel as he shook hands and signed menus on his way around. We found him to be friendly and pleasant just as his television persona reflects.
As Michel left our table, our next course arrived. Homemade Black Pudding, Crumbed Egg and Tomato Chutney. This felt like an impromptu breakfast in the middle of our tasting menu. A delicious black pudding with a rich egg and a shard of bacon is always going to be a winning combination. A comforting course after the fireworks of the previous few.
Our next meat course was one that I was very much looking forward to. Pigeon with Peas a la Francaise. I had seen Michel feature this dish on Masterchef: The Professionals, a tricky one to get right. Ours was sublime.
The pigeon was soft and gamey, perfectly cooked to a rosy pink colour. The legs really aren’t anything more than a garnish as no meat could be detected no matter how hard I tried. The peas mixed with bacon lardons and carrots cooked in a rich chicken stock were a level above any peas that we’ve ever had before.
How the staff manage to navigate the behemoth of a cheese cart around the dining room is anyone’s guess. “Wheech one would you like?” asked the waiter in a very heavy French accent. It was very much a case of ‘Where the heck do I start?’ but we settled on some gruyere and comte, two excellent cheeses served with crudites and chutneys.
After cheese comes the dessert. A very simple dessert at that. Mille Feuille of Raspberries and Chocolate with a Raspberry Coulis. Quite pedestrian for a two star restaurant but delicious all the same – in many ways we were grateful for the reduced size.
The petit fours signal the end of the ‘exceptionnel’ experience. So what was the final total? Just under £300 as it turned out. A very reasonable sum for the quality and quantity of both food and service.
Le Gavroche is an institution in London, a restaurant up there with the most famous. It would be easy for Michel Roux Jr to serve sub-standard food and charge the earth for you to eat it. He doesn’t. The restaurant is full day and night for a reason, this is where you come to eat and be treated like a king for a day. Long may it continue.
Opening Times: Tuesday – Friday 1200-1400, 1800-2200
Nearest Tube Station: Marble Arch