Approaching a review of Le Gavroche is an intimidating prospect, this is the classic London fine dining restaurant. The first ever UK restaurant to be awarded 1, then 2, then 3 Michelin stars (now 2). Set up by culinary giants the Roux brothers and currently helmed by Michel Roux Jr (‘im off recent Masterchef). Expectations can’t be set much higher than that. It is about as far away from another trendy new Dalston opening as you can get, both in concept and its Mayfair location. The exterior is subtle, you could easily walk past, and we were greeted in a small reception area and taken to our table. We were lucky enough to be dining in the library, their version of the chef’s table and 8 of us sat down excitedly.
First impressions, the main dining area is quite dark and cluttered. Decorative items lace the room, it had a late Victorian / Edwardian member’s club feel combined with a dash of French quirkiness. Certainly different, I couldn’t compare it to anywhere else. Too stuffy for my taste, despite the obvious quality in everything. The “library” was better, a large table sparcely laid (because of the menu format) was cleaner. The room had a glass sliding door (which because useful to spare the other diners from animated conversations) and a TV screen showing the kitchen. Books scattered the walls, and a large notebook in particular was placed open on the table. After a bit of debate, we realised it was the menu for tonight, each dish sketched out. A nice touch, and it allowed you to browse back through previous nights there.
As a group of 8, we had a couple of dietry requirements including no nuts and no (or very low at least) gluten. I think they did a very good job of designing the menu around these. 3 canapes were brought out. Asian beef skewers were excellent, simply a lump of chargrilled beef with flavours of Chinese five spice and soy, it reminded me of an (excellent) takeaway beef. Tarragon waffle with rabbit was a good concept but the base was too dry (perhaps a different mix than usual for the gluten content) and it needed a more herby kick. A red pepper roulade was cheese with a delicate wrapper of Piquillo pepper. Excellent bread in a cloth bag and some salted (and unsalted butter) finished off the pre-dinner snacks.
The first course proper was ceremoniously brought to the table to be carved, a big piece of char, cured with maple. The fish was delicately flaking with a balanced smoky sweet flavour. Served with crisp thin rye bread in an appropriately Canadian themed tin and some simple pickles to cut through. It was matched with a beautiful light chilled off-dry Alsace Riesling. A second fish course was red mullet with tomatoes. The tomato were expertly prepared into a delicious light duo of sauces. The fish itself was cooked perfectly and had a very strong flavour (too much for some), that’s the nature of mullet though. It was topped with deep fried scales for crunch, I liked the novel concept but they didn’t taste of much and still had a slight chew.
Onto some meat, pigeon with spelt risotto. I love pigeon and this was expertly cooked to rare. Well seasoned and on top of a spelt risotto which was soft and unctuous. A good dish well prepared, the standout part for me though was the exceptional wine, a Louis Jadot Volnay 2006. Light and elegant, it paired well with the pigeon and was spectacular. Our next meaty portion involved pork, rack and belly paired with a bean ragu. Soft salty pork and excellent cracking paired well with the light fresh bean and vegetable mix. An English cheese selection was brought, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed we didn’t get to pick from the amazing looking trolley though (stored by the toilets weirdly). A Davidstow cheddar seemed a very bizarre choice to me (isn’t that just slightly posher supermarket cheese) but it was aged for 5 years and admittedly interesting. Strong, sweet and with some crunch, I did like it. An exceptionally soft camembert style goat’s cheese was salty and funky, plus a generous slice of Barkham blue. All served with a nutty fruity bread and a traditional sweet medlar jelly. Simple delicate petit-fours topped off the night, a rich chocolate tartelette and choux buns with lemon cream. Well executed again, very predictable though.
A fantastic night overall, the custom designed menu and interaction with the chefs made it a wonderful experience, plus all the staff looked after us supremely. The food was of course all very well executed. But, unfortunately there also comes the thornier issue of price and novelty. The food was certainly classic, but to me at times felt too simple for its 2 Michelin stars, a little dated. I understand the style is designed to be French classical, I wished there was a little bit more flair though. Perhaps that’s more down to their usual customer’s expectations than the kitchen though? And price, we were very kindly treated to the food (a birthday treat for one of our party) but I believe it’s around £135 a head. Plus service and wine it creeps up quite quickly to the £250 – £300 mark. Which is a lot for simple food combined with no particularly lavish produce on the menu, no foie gras or lobster or turbot etc. I’m very happy I got to experience the restaurant and in particular the chef’s library, but for that money I won’t return. A very enjoyable one-off helped by the amazing staff and kitchen, but try and make sure you’re not footing the bill.