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21 Romilly Street
Step through the unassuming, glossy-black door and you’ll discover a high-end French restaurant in what looks and feels like a moneyed Soho resident’s front room – albeit one with lots of tables. This is the elegant domain of Alexis Gauthier, an Alain Ducasse protégé with a penchant for vegetarian and vegan cuisine alongside more conventional offerings. The seasonal carte might include pancetta tortellini in a deeply aromatic chicken jus, pink-roasted loin and rack of Welsh lamb with spiced butternut squash, dates, pistachio and braised spelt or sparkling-fresh wild halibut with salsify and girolles, each labelled with a calorie count – a detail that typifies Gauthier’s nutrition-conscious ethos. More indulgent diners shouldn’t miss the “heavenly” Louis XV chocolate praline, while oenophiles will have plenty of fun with a hefty list that favours the Old World; also, marvel at the “amazing” breads and “fabulous array” of French cheeses. Super-polite service, hushed voices and loud prices signal old-style, special-occasion dining.
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SquareMeal 2 Stars
21 Romilly Street
Leicester Square Tube Station 229m
Tottenham Court Road Tube Station 315m
Old Compton Street 32m
Curzon Soho 37m
Tues-Sat 12N-2.30pm Mon-Sat 6.30-10.30pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 5
Upmarket feel, great atmosphere and attentive service. Amazing food created by Alexis Gauthier and his team. The tasting menu is highly recommended; in my opinion it is one of the best, particularly their fabulous array of gorgeous French cheeses and freshly made crackers. Don’t fill up on the amazing freshly baked breads at the start (harder said than done - their chorizo and sea salt breads are mouthwateringly super every time), as you will definitely need to save space for dessert, especially if it is their signature Louis XV chocolate praline — heavenly!!!
Food + drink: 4
Just minutes from the sex shops of Soho is not perhaps the most obvious place to site a high-end French fine dining restaurant. Diners enter Gauthier (eponymously named after the head chef) through a discrete black door on Romilly Street and find themselves amidst an oasis of calm, a notable contrast to the outside world. We were seated on the ground floor, just one of five tables, with others being located throughout the rest of the townhouse. With such few diners (admittedly all the tables in our room were full), one should – and we did indeed receive – attentive and professional service. Nothing was bad about our experience at Gauthier, but nonetheless we did not come away with the view that we had to return. Some of this may have been a function of the location (attempting to get a taxi home after was a thoroughly painful experience), but the food, while good, was not ground-breaking. Both my comrade and I went for the tasting menu, me the omnivorous one and my comrade the vegetarian one. Tasting menus should normally allow for a chef to demonstrate their skills to the utmost, but we saw little originality across the dishes we sampled. If I wanted to create an ‘original’ or inventive tasting menu then I certainly wouldn’t start with foie gras, also include scallops, a risotto and conclude the mains with a steak. All were competently executed, but there was utterly no sense of boundary-pushing. Indeed, the only one of my dishes that really stood out was the sea bass, perfectly prepared and enhanced with seasonal greens and a hint of balsamic. My vegetarian comrade was similarly underwhelmed: an ‘Isle of Wight tomato’ is still, ultimately just a tomato, whose taste was not enhanced by stuffing it with tofu, while her main (which came at the same time as my steak) was a notable anti-climax, comprising just two pieces of gnocchi and a lot of garnish. On the plus side, the wines were a success, paired differently with the food for me and my comrade, and generally selected from less mainstream regions. The broader list also looked well put-together and would merit further perusal. In the final analysis, tasting menus with paired wine are never going to be cheap experiences, and if you are paying up, then it is worth going for something better than Gauthier.
Our first visit for a midweek lunch saw us at this converted townhouse with a dark stairway and spaces that make it obvious that the place wasn't designed to be a restaurant. Things started off well when we arrived 40 mins before our reservation (too hot for more walking round Soho) and were seated right away. Things then went downhill when we had to wait an age for menus and then another age till the young maitre D came to take our order, despite quite a few empty tables. I just can't see the sense in this. Why do you seat people and then keep them waiting for 15 minutes to let them see a menu? And why another 15 minutes (at least) to take our order from a relatively short and uncomplicated menu? The knock-on effect of this was that our three course meal and coffee took well over two hours even though the pace of the food itself was as you'd expect. And trying to hurry things along doesn't work. Trying “excuse me” to a person walking within three feet of you in a quiet restaurant simply results in him walking right on and blanking us completely. Clearly here's a man who considers that customers will get attention when he thinks it's time and not before.
Enough of that. My wife chose the set lunch; I chose three courses from the a la carte . All of these courses were at least good, and in each case the cooking was pretty much spot on. My halibut fish course was perhaps the star turn- nicely flavoured and beautifully cooked. I probably would have preferred my main course of lamb three ways without the quinoa and apricot which added a strong (too strong) flavour to the dish in total as quinoa gets everywhere. A touch that in our view didn't work. All the remaining accompanyments to all our courses were fine. We drank a very slightly off dry Cotes de Gascogne from the lower end of the list which was a perfect choice for lunch on a hot day.
Our bill for two, including wine, coffee and service, came to £111 and we thought this pretty fair, if only we could get the service thing out of our minds. But as there are a good selection of restaurants offering food of this quality in London at about these prices there is no compelling reason to return. Certainly I don't think the food here beats that which you'd get at Murano, or Pollen Street Social, or Trompette, or Kitchen W8 or others where I can eat in nicer surroundings and more importantly served by people keen to give good service.
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