The tag “legend” is all-too easily bandied around these days. To me, it should only be used where someone has been at the top of their profession for an extended period of time and is respected by a broad spectrum of their peers. According to this definition, the word “legend” can well and truly be applied to Pierre Koffmann. After working with the Roux brothers (Michel (senior) and Albert) at the famous Waterside Inn at Bray he established La Tante Claire in 1977 on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea, which went on to get three Michelin stars within six years. He ran this site until it was acquired by Gordon Ramsay. Koffmann then moved La Tante Claire to The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, where it remained until he closed it in 2003. During his time working at La Tante Claire he worked with such luminary chefs as Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Tom Kitchin.
Koffmann returned to The Berkeley in 2010 to open a new restaurant (Koffmann’s) with a focus on rustic, Gascony-style home cooking – as opposed to fine dining.
We went for lunch last Sunday and, as you’d expect on the Sunday before Christmas, the restaurant was absolutely heaving. I started the meal with a lobster bisque (Bisque de Homard), which was intensely flavoured and deep. It came with some light little croutons for sprinkling over the top to give some texture. I matched this with a glass of 2011 Chablis from Domaine Louis Michel, which had just the right crisp bite to cut through the richness and depth of the bisque. My wife had probably the best dish of the whole lunch for her starter; a delicious langoustine tortellini, served in a fragrant langoustine broth.
For main course, I went for something that I knew would be homely and hearty; braised beef cheeks in a red wine sauce (Daube de Joue de Boeuf, Grand-Mère). The plate I was presented with contained two mighty hunks of beef that were so tender that it resembled a pulled-beef dish. The sauce was lovely and flavoursome and it was served with a deliciously smooth mashed potato. My wife had duck breast, honey glazed with mild spiced sauce (Suprème de Canard au Miel et Sauce Aux Épicées Douces); this was a colossal plate with two very large strips of nicely cooked duck breast, served medium-rare and with a nice pink colour in the middle. I’ll confess to being a bit annoyed as we asked the waiter what we should get to accompany our dishes and he suggested some dauphinois potato and some French beans, which we duly ordered. However, when our main courses arrived we were presented with some complimentary fries and carrots. This frustrated me as clearly we wouldn’t have ordered two sides (at £3.50 each) if we’d known this.
To go with our main courses, we had a half bottle of 2011 La Matinière from Ferraton Père et Fils (Crozes-Hermitage, Burgundy). This was a lovely wine, which benefitted tremendously for leaving to breathe for a few minutes; it just needed a little air to help it open up a bit. The nose was immediately enticing, all red fruit and a hint of vegetal notes, but it was the taste that took a little time to come around. When it did, however, it provided a lovely accompaniment to our respective main courses.
For those who’ve followed a few of these posts, they will know that I normally go for some cheeses or a pudding as I like to try as much of the menu as possible; however, given the extremely generous portion size and the extra side plates that made their way to our table, we were completely full. Instead we opted for some coffees and went on our way.
My impressions of Koffmann’s? Certainly this was no fine dining experience; nonetheless I appreciated the rustic and ruddy nature of the food and the generous portion sizes. It was a little expensive for what we actually had (the above came in at upwards of £150), however there can be no arguing that the food was well made and thought out. With hindsight I should have ordered the restaurant’s (and Koffman’s) signature dish – pig’s trotter served with sweetbreads and morels, which means I’ll probably have to go back… oh well!