You’ll be familiar by now, dear reader, with my “List” that I keep of places that I want to eat at. This List varies from noodle bars that I’ve heard are good, all the way up to Noma. Somewhere near the summit of this List, where it’s been ever since I started compiling it, is Le Gavroche, a restaurant steeped in history and grandeur. It was established by brothers Albert and Michel Roux (Senior) in 1967 and was the first British restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars in 1982. The restaurant today is equally as renowned and is run by Albert’s son – the Masterchef himself, Michel Roux Junior.
Now this isn’t the kind of restaurants that one goes to on a whim. Well most people don’t, anyway. Tables are usually booked up about three months in advance, so around Christmas I started thinking about booking a table for a somewhat belated celebration that my wife and I promised ourselves when we bought our flat a couple of years ago. I knew what I thought I should expect when I arrived at the restaurant as I’d been watching Michel Roux’s Service on BBC for a few weeks and had seen how tough service is at the top level. For this special meal we decided to treat ourselves to the eight course Menu Exceptionnel with matching wines. After all, it was a celebration!
I was lucky enough to take a tour of the restaurant’s cellars with one of its sommeliers, you can read about this in my blog for Vinspire.
Before I start, a brief explanation is owed. As usual in order to provide some photographs for this blog I insisted on taking photographs of every course (much to my wife’s chagrin). After two courses, however, I found that the lighting was a little too low for my ‘phone and that my wife’s worked a little better. Unfortunately I had my ‘phone stolen the very next day (before I’d backed it up), so the photos of the first two courses are lost to the ages – you will just have to rely on my words to describe them. Apologies. Still, I count myself very lucky that I did decide to switch ‘phones, or else I wouldn’t have had any photographic evidence of the magnificence we enjoyed that night.
We were welcomed to our table with a glass of 2005 Henriot Champagne Brut Millésimé, which I must say is quite probably the best champagne that I have ever drunk. It was apple and lemons on the mouth, with a touch of sorbet and a slightly moussey feel. It really was the perfect way to start such a meal.
The first course was a Soufflé Suissesse (cheese souffle cooked on double cream) which doesn’t really need much description to be fair; it was as divine as it sounds. Rich, thick, creamy souffle and cheese; not one to tell your doctor that you’ve been eating. It was served with a 30 year old bottle of “Apostoles” sherry from Gonzalez Byass in Jerez, which was a mix of Palomino Fino and Pedro Ximenez grapes; giving something that was sweet, but also a touch nutty – a perfect accompaniment for the cheese souffle. We were off to a great start.
Next up was a Terrine Marbrée de Foie Gras aux Epices Gelée au Madère et Croque aux Champignons (Spice Crusted Foie Gras Terrine with Madeira Jelly and Mushroom Toast). Fortunately (or perhaps that should be, unfortunately), I am somewhat partial to Foie Gras and this was delectable: fatty, rich, creamy and awash with flavours from the spices, which were balanced nicely with the Madeira Jelly. The perfect wine for cutting through fatty Foie Gras is a sweet white and that’s why we were given a 2004 Vouvray Demi-Sec, “Les Morandières” from Domaine Lemaire-Fournier, Loire Valley; this was slightly orange to look at and had an intriguing nose that reminded me of cough medicine (in a good way!). On tasting it was fresh and vibrant, with a bracing thrash of acidity that kept the sweetness in check.
The first of the fish courses was an exquisite Gratin de Crabe au Persil et Piment d’Espelette (Snow Crab in a Light Hollandaise Sauce Flavoured with Parsely and Basque Chilli). The Snow Crab is sourced from Alaska and was extremely succulent, with the chilli really coming through nicely and giving the dish a pleasing background heat. This dish was served with a 2008 1er Cru “Les Caradeux” from Domaine Chanson (Pernand Verglesses, Côte de Beaune), which was slightly full bodied whilst not being overbearing and had a grassy, mushroom aroma and a vivid palate.
For the second of the fish courses we were treated to a Filet de Maigre Parfumé au Ras-el-Hanout, Fenouil et Riz Rouge de Camargue (Stone Bass and Pastilla, Scented with Arabian Spices, Fennel, Red Rice and Meat Jus). As you would expect the fish was cooked absolutely beautifully, but the star of the dish was the Pastilla, which really delivered a fragrant and spicy Moroccan-style. This was a difficult course to match a wine to as there was so much going on in the dish. It was paired with a 2008 Le Soula Blanc from Roussillon, which was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay; it was slightly off-dry and had a complex and heady aroma. This was an intriguing wine that stood up well against this dish.
It was time for us to move on to the meat courses. We started with a Joue de Porc Braisée et Fumée, Cromesquis de Couennes (Braised and Smoked Pork Cheek, Crispy Belly Ravioli and Red Cabbage Condiment). The description alone tells you almost everything that you need to know about this dish; the pork cheek was deliciously tender and flavoursome, with the crispy ravioli of pork belly offering some textural variety. This dish was probably my favourite of the whole evening and was matched with a suitably glorious wine, a 2011 Morgon “Côte du Py” from Domaine J. Foillard, Beaujolais. This was smokey, rich and complex on the nose, with a floral hint that was reminiscent of lillies. On the palate it transformed into something light and delicate, with strawberries coming through to balance well with the fatty and juicy pork. In terms of matching wine and food, this was what fine dining is all about for me – stunning.
Following on from this was a Agneau de Lait Rôti en Parsillade (Roast Pyranean Lamb with Garlic and Parsley Thyme Scented Jus). This was presented with great ceremony by the waiter and then carved at our table, exceedingly opulent silver-service. The lamb was perfectly pink in the middle and the fragrances emanating from the plate were simply divine. I expected a nice Pinot to go with this course, but surprised when a rather heady “Belveze” Grand Cuvée 2007 from Château Cabezac, Minervois, Languedoc. This was a Rhone blend wine (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) and had a slightly herbal smell, which was tannic and heavy on the palate. I think I would have preferred that Pinot to be honest.
We had a little bit of an interval before the next course, which was very much needed. We were then presented with the cheese selection to end all cheese selections. Wow. We were taken through all of the varieties of cheese on this massive trolley, I opted for one creamy, one blue, one hard and one goats’. These was served with biscuits and assorted chutneys and pickles. To match with the cheeses we were given a 2007 Espirit de Chavalier from Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, which is Cabernet Sauvignon driven and the estate’s second wine. I was surprised to have a red wine served with the cheese, but was told that this was the French way and that it is the English that always want port! The wine itself was a deep, rich Bordeaux with a perfumed aroma and a hint of cedar wood to me. On the palate it was smooth, with balanced tannins. I must be more English then I thought because although the wine was nice, I really felt that I’d’ve loved a nice port!
Finally we came to the pudding course, a Petite Tarte Tatin aux Poires et Glace à la Vanille de Madagascar (Pear Tart Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream). What better way to end a sumptuous French meal, then one of the great French desserts? This didn’t disappoint at all, the Tarte Tatin and the pear were sticky, gooey, sweet, sharp, utterly delicious and complimented well by the creamy vanilla ice cream. Pudding was served with a 2010 Blanc de Morgex Vin de Glace (Ice wine) “Chaudelune” from Cave de Morgex in Vallée d’Aoste, Italy. I’ve never had an Ice Wine from Italy before and this was very special, perfumed with lavender and honey and light-bodied and fresh on the mouth. It was sweet, but not sickly sweet, which allowed it to accompany the dessert beautifully.
As you will be able to see from my effusive praise above, I walked out of the restaurant several hours after I arrived a happy, contented, full and slightly light-headed man. I only hope that I don’t have to wait until I buy another flat before I can come back!