I first ate at Le Gavroche almost three years to the day from this meal. It was at a time when this blog was a distant dream and we ate for pleasure only. Oh, how I miss those days. It still stands as my favourite ever meal; perhaps not the best food, but certainly the best overall experience. There was, and still is, something uniquely special about walking underneath the famous signage, through the heavy doors, down the stairs and into that dimly lit basement dining room. There is ceremony with every nudge of a chair and pouring of wine, and touch of class at every detail with custom made table sculptures, plates, and silverware. We ate chicken with parmesan risotto, drank our body weight in wine and overindulged Michael Roux Jnr himself in person at our excessive praise of the soufflé suissesse – a long standing stalwart of the menu here so light it threatened to drift back up those stairs and off into the clouds. I consider myself lucky enough to have eaten at Birmingham’s five Michelin starred restaurants on many occasions but our pursuit outside of my home town has never led us back to the same place. Now, with Phil Howard departing from The Square there was only ever one option for a celebratory return meal: Three months back we decide to hammer the phone lines at 9am and secure a table at Le Gavroche.
It was, if I am entirely honest, not as memorable as our first visit. Perhaps it was the table; this time in a busy area near the stairs as opposed to the dark green booth we had once nestled in to in the far corner. Maybe it is much of the romanticism is lost once you have witnessed it in person already. That is not to say it is still not one of the countries top tables; almost everything we ate punched with French classicism and Gaelic charm, personified by an almost entirely French waiting team, each oozing with the confidence only a top kitchen can install. Nibbles of smoked duck and another of cheese and chive greet as us as we are sat, followed quickly by an amuse of deep fried burrata ravioli, all of which quickly disappear before a basket of bread is presented with a choice of butter. Knowing what is next, we save the bread for the aforementioned Soufflé Suissesse, flavoured with cheese and cooked on double cream, which is every bit as naughty as it sounds. The dish is filth in the best possible sense, imagined by a brain with zero regard for health care and the upmost respect for indulgence. This version was as good as I remember and still makes my top three dishes of all time.
A fat cut of veal shoulder follows, braised gently so that the knife is redundant. The cooking of the meat is exact, even if the ragout of beans is light on seasoning and the accompanying green beans the extreme side of al dente. Our charming waiter asks if everything is okay to which I tell him that the portion is too big, only covering half of the truth as this singular dish individually ruins my otherwise perfect memory of the restaurant. A chariot of cheese quickly restores memories, each one impeccably sourced and kept, with the comte and stinking bishop notably good.
Dessert number one is a nougatine parfait almost as smooth as the service here, with melon in varying forms, which is nice but hardly memorably. Better was the birthday cake for two; a chocolate mousse with a rich ganache exterior, not dissimilar to the famous Louis XV dessert at the Alain Ducasse restaurant in Monaco of the same name. Its rich and velvety, and it has my name written on the plate. Honestly, could it get any better. There are petit fours including candied kumquats and truffles which are as good as you would expect.
Being my birthday we gorge on the pink sparkling stuff, the white stuff, the red stuff, and the fortified red stuff, leaving a bill that I did not see (Thank You, Charlie), but was fairly considerable by any stretch. Not that this matters of course as nobody goes to the effort of trying to get a reservation here, eventually donning the compulsory shirt and jacket, and comes here expecting it to be cheap. What you pay for is an institution steeped in gastronomic history, where food sits around the two star level it is presently scored at, with service arguably a level above that. Le Gavroche is an experience unlike anywhere else in London, which everyone should save up for and try once in their life. Maybe not the perfection I recalled first time around, but still very very good indeed. Go on, spoil yourself.