Did we Roux the day at Le Gavroche?
Le Gavroche, meaning ‘The urchin’, was the first restaurant in the UK to earn three Michelin stars. Opened by Michel and Albert Roux in 1967, originally at Lower Sloan Street, the restaurant moved to Upper Brook Street in 1982. When the running of the restaurant passed from Albert Roux to his son, Michel Roux Jr. in 1993, a star was lost but it has held two Michelin Stars ever since. Many famous chefs have worked here including Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti. Now over five decades later, Le Gavroche has closed its doors. A couple of years ago we booked dinner here to celebrate Mark’s birthday and here are our thoughts…
We were welcomed at the door then seated in the bar initially for a pre-dinner drink, but we just wanted to go straight into the food so were guided down the dark stairs to the restaurant underneath. There were paintings on the wall of Albert and Michel Roux Jr., while tables were adorned with animals made from cutlery, and an advert for Michel Roux Junior’s book ‘The French Revolution’.
As we were here for a pre-birthday celebration, we opted for the ‘menu exceptionnel’ at £178 per person (increased to £200 before it closed) with service surprisingly included (though reports from years ago indicated that none of this money found its way to staff in the form of tips).
The wine list was extensive but all the dishes, aside from the beef and dessert, looked like they would pair with a white wine so we decided to order a bottle. Our preference being German Riesling or one from Alsace. The first two bottles we requested around the £60-£65 mark (the cheap end of the scale) were surprisingly both not in stock so the sommelier guided us to bottles in the £100 – £150 price range but somewhere like Le Gavroche shouldn’t stock bad wines so we were more than happy with a bottle at the lower end of the scale. Sensing that we weren’t quite prepared to shell out a ton on a single bottle she finally suggested a bottle of 2015 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Riesling Rosenberg which turned out to be excellent and accompanied most of the courses well.
The bread knife was very cute so was worthy of a photo.
First to arrive was bread, a choice of three: mini French baguette, rye and sourdough. We got to eat one of each throughout our meal and all three were good but we expected much better for such an acclaimed restaurant (places like Inver and Cail Bruich do far superior bread). Salted and unsalted butter were also provided.
The first course proper to arrive was the Soufflé Suissesse, which we could smell as it arrived, bliss…although our soufflés were a little deflated compared to other diners and the presentation left a lot to be desired…taste-wise they were creamy and cheesy but we’ve had better elsewhere.
Next was Filet de Maquereau Fumé, Betteraves Glacées au Balsamique et Bottarga, which was lightly cured smoked mackerel, kohlrabi and balsamic glazed beetroot. It was a well executed dish but nothing to get excited about.
Coquilles St Jacques Poêlées, Potimarron et Châtaignes AKA seared scallops, pumpkin, chestnuts and cumin scented sauce. A tasty scallop but quite a small portion.
Pavé de Truite Saumonée Confit, Basilic et Navets, Beurre d’Algues Dulse. This was confit sea trout, basil puree, red dulse butter sauce. Mark does love a confit and this is possibly the first confit fish he’s had.
Topinambour Farci à la Racine de Persil et Piment Frit. Stuffed Jerusalem artichoke with parsley roast and crispy chilli. We enjoyed this but the presentation was underwhelming. A lively mixture of flavours.
Joue de Boeuf Braisée au Vin Roufe, Moelle et Trésors des Bois – Braised beef cheek bone marrow and wild mushrooms, sage condiment. This kind of beef seems to be a hotel event staple so we’re used to eating it. It’s quite basic and probably very cheap to make so this was disappointing.
Le Plateau de Fromages Affinés – the cheese trolley was immense and the highlight of our meal. I think we were supposed to be allowed four but we managed to cajole a fifth cheese.
Mille-Feuilles à la Rhubarbe et Chocolat Blanc, Gingemmbre et Sorbet à la Rhubarbe Rôtie. Puff pastry layers with rhubarb and white chocolate namelaka, roasted rhubarb sorbet. Fresh pastry and a mixture of tart rhubarb creamy chocolate made for a pleasant way to finish an underwhelming meal.
We were asked at this point what made us book so we explained that we were here as a birthday treat and five minutes later a little chocolate ganache half-sphere (for want of a better description!) appeared with a candle and Happy Birthday chocolate.
Café et Petits Fours
We had mint tea which had a really strong minty aroma. We only had one cup as it was getting late but we were offered more. We couldn’t finish the petit fours as we were full by now (full of cheese) so they put them in a box for us to take away.
Our bill was £422.50, which made it the most expensive meal we’d ever had at the time (this has now been surpassed by the nearby Helene Darroze at the Connaught) and for the money, the food was good, but it wasn’t fantastic, amazing nor outstanding.
Le Gavroche was the first UK restaurant to attain three Michelin stars but to us that says more about (1) how the standard of fine-dining has improved over the years and (2) Michelin being biased to French cuisine because being we’re actually surprised that it had any Michelin stars! We’ve been saying to people for years that as far as UK restaurants are concerned, AA rosettes are a far better indicator of quality than Michelin stars, as we’ve had so many disappointing starred experiences. For reference Le Gavroche had three rosettes and it might just be our most disappointing two-starred experience, as the food is nowhere near as good as our favourite meals at L’enclume (two stars when we visited, three now) and Ynyshir (only one star when we visited but has two now). For additional context, we have also eaten at Helen Darroze at the Connaught, Claude Bosi’s Bibbendum, The Ledbury, Dinner by Heston, and Le Gavroche was far weaker than all of them. One of our favourite restaurants in London is Oslo Court and some people may guffaw at that statement, especially in light of my comments below but the food is a fraction of the price, the portions are massive and the staff are fantastic.
For a supposedly exceptional menu, courses were small so we were only full by the end because of the bread and cheese! The majority of courses were pretty boring, especially the mackerel, and the beef. We’re not saying that fine dining needs molecular gastronomy and espuma to shine but it needed something left field occasionally. Some will say it’s classic French and there will be those who say that you can’t improve on the classics but we disagree and we think plenty of others would if we had a ‘judgement of Paris‘ on food.
We were also surprised that we were served two deflated soufflés as I always assumed a restaurant with two stars and a celebrity chef would only send out a dish in perfect condition. Another issue was that we needed three goes at ordering a bottle of wine as our first two (cheaper) requests were both out-of-stock and the sommelier seemed keen on pushing us towards bottles closer to £150 (we have never spent that much on a bottle before nor since). We aren’t rich and this was a birthday meal, and really any bottles at the cheaper end of the scale (in this case £60) should still be great. Le Gavroche was also quite stuffy but staff did warm up towards the end of the meal.
One thing that was excellent at Le Gavroche, however, was the cheese trolley. In fact, we’d rate it the second-best we’ve ever seen (the best was in a random restaurant we found in France), so that was our favourite course…which tells its own story.
We’ve seen so many glowing ‘obituaries’ for the restaurant recently but in my mind, if Le Gavroche was a football team it would be Blackburn Rovers. Once considered the finest in the land, but today languishing mid-table in the Championship.
43 Upper Brook Street,