My “list” of restaurants that I want to visit has a nasty habit of growing at a greater rate than I can cross them off. One of the restaurants that has been on my list almost since I started it is Cheltenham’s “Le Champignon Sauvage”, a restaurant that has a reputation for doing top-quality food with wonderful produce and a much-vaunted wine list. A recent trip to the Cotwsolds gave me the perfect opportunity to pay them a visit and to cross this particular restaurant off “the list”.
The restaurant is set in what looks a little like a cottage, on a rather quiet road, in a rather quiet part of town. From the outside, there is limited advertising or decoration telling you that inside is a Michelin starred restaurant – and I kind of think that is the point. LCS exudes a quiet, self-confidence, that doesn’t seek to blow its own trompette (that’s a mushroom gag, right there…!). As we arrived we found ourselves escorted to a nice corner table with a good view of the dining room, which has (again) a rather understated elegance to it, with interesting art work on the walls and nice lighting features (something that my interior design-loving wife was keen to point out).
The menu is a choice between either a two-course or a three-course meal (priced at £55/head or £70/head respectively, on the weekend). There aren’t a huge selection of choices for each course, six or seven, but every one of the dishes looked absolutely smashing to me! I had been having quite a lot of fish meals recently, so I decided that I wanted to go big, bold and meaty with my selections.
I started with Dexter Beef Tartare, served with homemade Corned Beef, Wasabi Mayonnaise and Pickled Shimeji. When the plate arrived I looked at it with awe – it really did look like a dish that had been dropped from a great height and as such had a quite dramatic effect; however, I know that in practice it had been painstakingly put together with every element placed very exactly. The little pickled mushrooms, the black dots of sauce, the micro-salad and the wasabi mayonnaise all gave the dish dashes of colour and interest. The two substantive elements on the plate were both absolutely delicious: starting with the tartare, it was divine with a beautifully tender quality to the meat which was augmented by the mustard seeds that it contained; the corned beef was creamy and flavourful, a world-away from the corned beef that I remember having from a tin in my childhood. This was a wonderfully clever dish that was beautifully presented.
When it came to the main course I opted for a similarly bold choice: Brecon Venison served with Parsnip Purée, Baby Parsnips, Black Pudding, Japanese Artichokes and Bitter Chocolate. I don’t think this dish quite hit the dizzying heights of the starter in terms of presentation, not that it didn’t look nice, however it more than made up for this in terms of flavour and enjoyment factors. Starting with the venison, it was absolutely divine – cooked perfectly so that it was tender and succulent, but with a lovely colour around the outside. The additional elements on the plate all served as fantastic counter-points to the venison – the parsnips (puréed and whole) added a sweetness to the dish; the black pudding and bitter chocolate added a depth and savoury element to it and the spinach and mushrooms added extra dimensions of texture and flavour. All-in-all this was a lovely plate of food that was a hedonistic delight.
So, I hear you ask, what about the wine? Well, my wife and I were having very different meals (me: beef and venison; her: seafood) so we needed very different wines. Fortunately LCS has one of the best selections of half-bottles that I have seen on a menu – and they are priced (indeed, as all of their wines are) exceptionally reasonably. This allowed my wife to have a very nice, Premier Cru Chablis, whereas I went for a half bottle of 2011 Segla (Margaux, Bordeaux). This was a lovely wine with a slightly smoky nose to go with some rather dramatic black fruit notes. On the palate it was rich and full-bodied with a great balance between primary notes of dark fruit and secondary/tertiary notes of smoky bacon and leather. This was just the kind of serious wine that my dishes were calling out for. My only quibble is that the wine-list declared this wine to be a 2eme Cru Classe, but actually this is the second wine from the Chateau Rauzan-Segla and it is the first wine which holds the 2eme Cru Classe. A tiny quibble, but one worth noting.
I opted against a dessert and instead went for a coffee and petit-fours. I did, however, treat myself to one of my new obsessions brandy. In this instance, I was taken by the offer of a 1983 “Le Pertyer” Calvados (a pear brandy) from Michel Huard. 1983 holds a special significance for me as it is my birth year – how could I refuse that? The nose on this wine was beautiful, slightly sweet with honey and butterscotch coming through with little touches of floral notes (honeysuckle?). On tasting there was a definite heat and warmth to the wine, but it didn’t burn at all. It had a glorious apple compote-like flavour, which was augmented by sweet spices and had an incredibly long and balanced finish. Delicious!
This was a truly excellent dinner and goes to show that sometimes it is worth believing the hype about a restaurant! I was blown away by the quality of the food, the service and the value for money (something that can’t be said, often, for a lot of the London starred-restaurants). This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and one that I hope to repeat in the future. It goes to show that you never truly cross anywhere off your “list”…