When this year’s Zagat review came out, it (or rather, for this is the point really of its crowd-sourcing style, it’s readers) rated Le Gavroche the third best food in the capital. It is not hard to see why, yet this left some of the twittering classes agog. How could a restaurant in the heart of Mayfair, a restaurant that has been churning out the same style of food for nearly half a century, be amongst the best food in London? London is about Shoreditch; it is about pop-ups and concepts. It isn’t longevity that counts, it is newness, freshness, pushing back the boundaries of what you can do with a single ingredient.
Well maybe because:
(a) you can book;
(b) they can cook; and
(c) the concept of service is not a concept like “up-market hot dog”, but a way of ensuring that the diner is made to feel at ease; made to feel relaxed, not made to feel lucky that they have been able to dine at this week’s greatest restaurant of the decade, having stood in the rain for the last two hours at a location tweeted to them that morning.
I first came to Le Gavroche some twenty year’s ago, and some things haven’t changed at all. The unassuming front door still leads to a small bar area (although one can no longer linger over a digestif and a cigar); the menus for the guest have no hint at the prices; and those prices are still higher than a Baumgartner skydive.
Whilst sipping a cocktail at the bar, the vast menus are proffered, an even vaster, leather bound wine list arrives and orders are taken, before you then descend to the main room. It isn’t what you would call bright. Not gloomy, not unwelcoming, just not showy: unpretentious. You are left in no doubt that here, the food is the star.
And what food – flawlessly executed, deeply flavoured and beautifully presented. The boudin noir came with a perfect piece of crackling, which may well once have been attached to the suckling pig that was the shared main course. Soft and melting in the way that suckling pig should be, this came with raisins soaked in marc de gewürztraminer. Sweet and strong, the perfect accompaniment.
I am sure that the desserts are as expertly prepared as the rest of the food, but when faced with a cheese chariot as huge and smelly as this, why bother with dessert?
Service is excellent in an old fashioned way; unobtrusive, unsycophantic, although we were somewhat thrown by the vibrantly red haired waitress who seemed to be everywhere, until we realised that there were two of them: twin sisters, who seem to have evolved to be identical in their taste for eye wear, earrings and hair colouring products.
But at the end of the day, is all just a little too passé for London? Yes, it was cutting edge in 1967, and has lead people like Pierre White, Ramsay and Marcus Wareing to blaze a trail through the Milky Way of Michelin stars, but isn't it all a bit past it now; a little tired?
No, not at all: in an age of instant gratification, when we are all told that we have to seek out the three night only pop-up above some bar that is so cool you will never know about it until it is no longer cool, in some far flung reaches of the East End, serving a single cut of meat from the hind quarters of a free range, rare breed ocelot, served on glutton free, organic, artisanal sour dough toast, there is something deeply soothing about the familiarity of Le Gavroche, as it sails a course through culinary fashion.
I know, I am one of those (almost) 50 something City bigwigs (without, alas, an expense account the size of Mars) so sniffed at by the Guardian, but so what – London is a polyglot city, a melting cesspit of ideas, cultures and experiences: the great charm of the city is that we can have the aforementioned pop-ups pushing the boundaries, whilst letting the likes of Le Gavroche serenely go about its business. There is ample room for both and, whilst I do like the occasional ocelot steak, I am equally as happy relaxing into the plush banquettes and premier crus of Le Gavroche.