Morgan M. – You Can Go Your Own Way

Morgan M.
489 Liverpool Road
London N7 8NS
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • For dinner and Sunday lunch, the 3-course à la carte is £41, the seasonal 6-course tasting menu is £50 and the 6-course vegetarian menu is £45 – wine pairings with the tasting menus are £26.50 or £29.50, excluding dessert wine
  • During the week, a 2-course set lunch is £23.50 and the 3-course is £29.50, with the tasting menus priced at £45 (seasonal) and £39 (vegetarian)
  • For the full set of high-resolution photos, please visit my Flickr set for this meal

I really enjoyed my first meal at Morgan M. The complexity and quality of the cooking was on par with many better-known London restaurants, but was much more affordable and a wholly more personal dining experience. It’s worth making the short trek up Liverpool Road to sample Chef Meunier’s food. Based on my meal, if the front-of-house experience can be smoothed out a bit, and if the kitchen can consistently turn out dishes as good as what we sampled, they certainly deserve consideration from the ever-elusive Michelin man.

Not just any given Sunday

So I’ve moved to the US. I’ve been here two months and I’m still posting from my backlog of London meals. Because of my penchant for being anal, I am trying to write about all of the memorable meals I had during my last few weeks in London…before posting about anything I’ve had so far in the US. Clinging to the past? Maybe. There are three UK meals left that I’d like to write about – all of which took place in my last week in the country.

But first, something else, although also from the UK. You see, I had the opportunity to swing by London en route to Sweden a few weeks ago. I only had one Sunday, so I was determined to make the most of it. It turned out pretty much all of the places I wanted to have lunch at were closed on Sundays, except for one little place which had always intrigued, yet continually eluded, me. It was the mysterious Morgan ‘M’. It’s not really that mysterious after all, as when you google ‘Morgan M’ the chef’s name, Morgan Meunier, comes up in the restaurant’s site’s metadata…but I digress.

It turned out Mr. Meunier’s gaff was open and, even better, they had a table for me. So I had my plan:

  • Lunch at Mr. M with Ms. P
  • A leisurely, and it turned out much-needed, walk to Paul A. Young’s shop in Camden Passage to pick up supplies for my better half (they make the best brownies either of us have ever tasted, amongst other wonderful and imaginative chocolate concoctions – visit if you haven’t)
  • A long stroll into town to have cocktails with some foodie friends at one of my favorite London haunts, Bob Bob Ricard
  • And finally, a short walk to dinner with the non-foodblogger, food tweeter @jezmd at the newly opened Les Deux Salons (it had only been open a week when we visited), which has quite a pedigree, and then fly out to Sweden the next day

But you probably want to read about my review of the restaurant. This is a food blog after all, not a review of my travel itinerary. So, without further adieu…

On the outskirts of Paradise

Opening to critical acclaim in 2003, French chef Morgan Meunier has been going strong at his small haute cuisine restaurant in the somewhat unlikely location at the top of Liverpool Road in North(ish) London.

Meunier was formerly head chef at the Admiralty, and prior to that cooked at the Michelin-starred Monsieur Max in Twickenham. He has been going strong since 2003 with mostly positive reviews, yet without much publicity, so I was definitely interested to see what this Frenchman had up his sleeve.

We cabbed it to the restaurant from (real) North London and arrived on time for our table.

Formerly a corner pub, now home to modern French restaurant Morgan M.

If I had not seen a picture of the restaurant’s facade beforehand, I could have easily confused its corner location for a pleasant local pub, which it in fact used to be prior to its conversion to the present fine dining restaurant.

Well spaced tables and tasteful decor define the charming little room

However, once you step inside, everything changes. Meunier has succeeded in producing a lovely setting within the somewhat awkward space. The colors are warm, soft and comforting; the tables well spaced; the mood refined yet not too stuffy. Apparently the artwork which adorns the walls (and is on the cover of the menu) is painted by the chef himself.

Our table for two lay at the end of the side that was sans windows

The restaurant was about half-full and we were given one of the larger tables for two near the back of the restaurant along the wood-panelled wall.

Our places were set, and our appetites whet(ted)

A pretty decorative place setting was there to greet us as we sat down, and I slowly began to notice the attention to detail throughout our environs. The green pattern on the plate matched the scarves of the waitresses, and similar green accents were present throughout…on the wall, on the chairs’ upholstery, on the menu, and so on. Although teetering on the edge of obsessiveness, it was all tastefully done.

But what to order...

Our menus were soon presented and we concerned ourselves with the not so easy task of deciding what to eat. ‘Not so easy’ because, firstly, the dishes all had very complicated descriptions – not a bad thing in itself as it all sounded delicious and there were certainly some interesting combinations – and secondly, we weren’t sure how much we wanted to eat.

Choices, choices, choices...

Therefore, we hand the quandary of à la carte or choosing one of the two set menus (seasonal and vegetarian). In the end, we decided we weren’t hungry enough to take on either of the tasting menus which sounded a bit too ambitious given the rest of the day’s plans.

Meritorious Mastication

As we sat chatting, eagerly awaiting our first dishes, we decided we really liked it in here – it had a nice air about it.

Initial offerings

After our orders had been placed, we were greeted with an inviting tray of homemade bread.

Baguette

My choice of baguette was perfectly nice, with crisp and flakey crust and was even better with the high-quality salted butter, which came on its own silver pedestal. A quick note about the bread: strangely enough, this was the only time we were offered bread throughout the entire meal, even though we ate our single pieces of doughy goodness very quickly after receiving them. This certainly wasn’t a bad thing for our waistlines, but I found it very odd, as with some other of the front-of-house experience (more on that later).

Amuse Bouche: Turnip Cream & Trompettes

The amuse bouche was simple yet delicious. It immediately displayed the kitchen’s ability to handle vegetables as the cream effectively drew out the rich taste of turnip on the palate. The trompette mushrooms nestled within were also clearly expressed as a complementary secondary flavor. There were deep flavors going on here and I was interested to see what was to come next. 7/10.

Starter 1: Seared Diver-Caught Scallops, Poêlée of Cèpes, Glazed Pumpkin & Nut Biscuit, Butternut Coulis

This strikingly presented pair of trios was a wonderful beginning to the meal proper, no?

Starter 1: Diver-Caught Scallops Detail – Seared to Perfection

Each scallop had been delicately handled and perfectly seared, revealing a fragrant sweetness that was enhanced by the succulent carrots and the crunchy biscuit below, which provided a good crunch in contrast to the fleshy feel of scallop and carrot.

Starter 1: Cèpe Detail – The Best Things Often Come in Small Packages

The cèpes themselves were excellent – intense, meaty, not at all overcooked – and might just have been the best thing on the plate. I personally didn’t think the butternut squash coulis added that much to the mushrooms (or the scallops for that matter), but it did create certain visual flair in the plating of the dish and represented autumn strikingly well on the plate. 8/10.

My starter was paired with the Sauvignon suggested on the tasting menu (Paul Buisse, Sauvignon Touraine, Cuvée Prestige, 2008) and was very good. But what we found very odd was the awkwardness in communicating with our waitress in trying to select a few glasses of wine to go with our meal. As all of the dishes we had ordered were included in the Autumn tasting menu, and therefore had suggested wine pairings, she simply told us to order those wines. When we tried to politely ask why (and maybe try to get her to recommend an alternative), she couldn’t really express any reason and just pointed at the menu, saying that this is what they recommend. We found this to be a substantial shortcoming for a restaurant whose food certainly seemed to be sophisticated, and we were pretty frustrated with the whole experience in this regard.

Starter 2: Cream of Puy Lentils with a Parsley Coulis, Garlic Beignet

My dining partner enjoyed her starter, which was straight-forward and let the lentils speak for themselves, so to speak. I was graciously offered a spoonful and thought it was very good, though not particularly memorable – the beignet was a nice addition, though. I did enjoy the visual aspect, and likened it to a little island of golden sand replete with its own green forest, floating on top of autumn-colored seas.

Main Course 1: Seared Fillet of John Dory, Jerusalem Artichoke Soubise, Poêlée of Swiss Chard, Girolle Cappuccino

I also loved the presentation of my fillet of John Dory. The skin of the fish was nice and crisp, and the fish was well cooked, though ever so slightly too firm for my liking (and I am being finicky here…we’re talking maybe 10-15 seconds too long). What stood out again here was the deep flavors present in the vegetable components of the dish. The creamy Jerusalem artichoke was an excellent marriage with the slightly buttery fish, and there was an extra layer of luxury provided by the light foam of girolles that was poured on one side. Despite its visual impact on the plate, the taste of the chard did not overpower the fish and was a clever addition for the texture it lent the dish. The mushrooms on the side were also full of flavor and I thought the dish was well thought out and executed pretty precisely. 7/10.

The John Dory was paired with the suggested Sancerre (there seemed to be no other option! :)), which was okay as far as Sancerres go, but certainly not one to write home about.

Main Course 2: Oven-roasted Suffolk Red Leg Partridge, Sweet Potato Purée, Poêlée of Grapes and Savoy Cabbage, Liver Croûton, Bread Sauce

My dining companion much enjoyed her gamey main course. The meat was initially brought out a tad too pink for her liking (I am no game expert, but think it was probably fine except one particular spot which did seem too reddish to my untrained eyes), and it was sent back. It reappeared a few minutes later, as beautiful as it had been the first time around.

Main Course 2: The View from Behind

She really liked the dish, although felt that the portion size was very large, especially given the quantity of rich liver on the plate, which she loved but couldn’t finish. I had a few bites and thought it was a very tasty dish (I agreed it was very rich) that had been elegantly presented – it was a nice snapshot of the autumn season on the plate.

Pre-Dessert: Rice Pudding, Mango Sorbet & Orange Tuille

The pre-dessert was both beautiful and satisfying. It consisted of a central core of rice pudding that had been wrapped by a caramelized orange tuille, topped with mango sorbet, standing at attention in a pond of mango syrup. The tuille itself was good and, while not the best I’ve ever had, it performed its function of providing crunchiness. The rice pudding itself was a little too cold (maybe due to proximity to the sorbet?) and got slightly lost in the strong fruity flavors, but I must say that the combination worked well and it was a pretty delicious few bites that simultaneously stimulated and cleaned the palate. 7/10.

Dessert 1: Apple and Lime Soufflé & Coulis, Granny Smith Sorbet

As readers of this blog may recall, I am not the biggest fan of dessert soufflés, but I liked the refreshing sound of this one, and figured that since their seemed to be some serious precision going on in this French-led kitchen, I may as well give it a whirl.

I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed; to the contrary, I loved my dessert. It was presented in textbook perfection, with good height, and was extremely light and fluffy. The waitress poked a hole in the top with her spoon and poured in some of the bright green coulis and we were off.

Dessert 1: Soufflé Detail

The soufflé itself was to my liking and not overly eggy or chewy (i.e. not the texture of scrambled eggs) – and as I said before, it was exceedingly light. The crisp and zingy flavors of apple and lime were an excellent match and I really enjoyed the overall effect, although I think they could have poured a little less of the liquid into the center as it was on the verge of overpowering the delicate soufflé.

The accompanying sorbet was Granny Smith herself frozen in a cryogenic state and was again nice and crisp, with the sorbet not being overly watery. The beautifully presented apple crisp was a nice touch, too. I thought this was a really accomplished traditional dessert, especially given that the cards were stacked against it given my personal biases. 9/10.

Dessert 2: Warm Red Wine & Fig Soup, Roasted Fig

My friend immensely enjoyed her dessert too, which she ordered without the accompanying Pain d’Epice ice cream due to dietary restrictions. I had a bite and agreed that it was wonderful. It was the kind of dessert I could imagine enjoying on a brisk night in a log cabin high up in the Alps (we can dream, right…), and the red wine soup displayed a perfect balance between sweetness, acidity and spice. I am sure it would have gone perfectly with the ice cream, and I was slightly disappointed not to be able try it – but hey, it wasn’t my dessert after all!

Déjà vu?

After we had finished desserts, our table was once again dressed with a decorative plate in-keeping with the design scheme – although this time it was petit

Petit Fours

…presumably because it was making way for the seven fours. :) The narrow silver tray of dainty treats was both generous and tasty. I ended up ‘having’ to eat most of them as my companion was completely stuffed by this point – I know, poor old me.

Petit Fours: Chocolate Truffle and Financier Detail

The financiers were particularly good (perfectly cooked with the right consistency), as were the nougat and the dark chocolate truffle (with the chef’s signature on it, as with most things in the restaurant).

Petit Fours: Lemon Tartelette Detail

The real stand-out here, though, was certainly the miniature lemon tart. It was perfection in a single bite. I wish I could have had a full-sized one to take home with me! These were much better than your average petit four offerings. 8/10.

Single Espresso

I finished this excellent meal off with a very good single espresso. Or so I thought…

An ice cream cone for the road

It seemed the kitchen had other ideas, as we were given one final parting gift, a miniature ice cream cone! It was a nice touch :)

The omnipresent signature of the chef

The overall damage was fairly reasonable given the quality the food, totalling £150 for two à la carte menus, with a supplement for the scallops, three glasses of wine and service.

Dial M for Meticulous

I really enjoyed the food and ambience at Morgan M. His complicated yet clean modern dishes were generally a delight on the palate and stunning to look at. It is evident that this is a very personal restaurant where the chef is attempting to project his personality and vision throughout each element of the dining experience. I would imagine that the precise execution of the dishes is pretty consistent as Meunier himself is normally there cooking each day.

This M. is not as secretive as Ian Fleming’s...he came out and greeted each guest after their meal

He makes a point of greeting each table after they’ve finished their meal – it’s not just something he does for visiting critics or bloggers who identify themselves through their photographing of the food. While this can be a slightly awkward experience – for example, what if you have something not particularly nice to say? – it is a nice gesture and confirms that you are not eating in a ‘celebrity’ chef restaurant, but in a chef’s chef restaurant.

An easy comparison could be made with Alexis Gauthier, another somewhat iconoclastic Frenchman who held fort in the slightly odd location in Pimlico at Roussillon for many years. He too has an amazing ability to bring out the best from vegetables and gained quite a reputation for his careful and refined cooking, holding a Michelin star from 2000 while at Roussillon. He focuses on timely British produce and his menu changed with the seasons, and once he broke out on his own, he never went back to the establishment – almost eschewing the central London celebrity chef gang in favor of his own unique culinary expression. He has now moved in closer to town (Soho, see review here) but is still very much an independent spirit and operator. The parallels are obvious to see.

Whether or not Morgan M.’s location is strange or not is sort of beside the point, as his food is certainly worth seeking out. Possibly in part because of the location and the small size of the premises, he is able to offer very substantial a la carte and tasting menus at very reasonable prices (none are over £50) compared to other French fine dining affairs in the center of town.

The only thing that let us down was the awkward and uneven service provided by our waitresses. While they were warm and tried to be professional, we were not offered a refill of bread, the whole ordering of wine experience was very odd indeed, we waited for them on many occasions and not the other way around (especially when trying to get the bill), they almost gave my bag to another party who departed before us, and so on and so forth. I hope that this was merely a one-off, but who knows.

What I would say is that, if the front-of-house experience had been smoother and if the food was turned out consistently as good as what we sampled, the restaurant is certainly as deserving of a Michelin star. But that is another matter altogether, with many deserving London chefs still waiting for their fabled macaron to arrive.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the second subtitle, the restaurant resides across the street from ‘Paradise Park’ – no joke.

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 7.5/10

Wine: I barely got a chance to peruse the wine list, but noted it was French-dominated and seemed to have some interesting and good value options.

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Morgan M. once, and it was for lunch*

Morgan M on Urbanspoon

Gauthier Soho – Alexis Goes to Town

Gauthier Soho
21 Romilly Street
London W1D 5AF
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • Three, four & five-course menus at £27, £36 & £45 per person, or 12-course tasting menu (with a completely vegetarian option) for £70 per person
  • The full set of higher-resolution photos can be found on my Flickr account

Alexis Gauthier, the 1 Michelin star French chef, has moved from Roussillon in Pimlico to a townhouse in the heart of Soho. From a preview meal I had during the restaurant's soft opening, it appears that he may have found a winning formula. The menu format is clever and good value, the environs are cosy and inviting. And the food continues to be precisely cooked with subtle and delicate flavors, while at the same time carrying the chef’s particular flair. Gauthier Soho looks set to become a welcome addition to the growing cadre of enjoyable restaurants that have graced Soho over the last couple of years.

Trading places

There was a rumor circulating earlier this year that French chef Alexis Gauthier, then chef and proprietor of Roussillon, a 1 Michelin star restaurant in London’s Pimlico, was looking to do something different. Having broken ground by creating one of the capital’s first purely vegetarian tasting menus – that actually held interest and tasted great throughout – and then keeping standards consistently high for a number of years, possibly he felt it was time for a new challenge, to take the road less travelled. Having had the pleasure of dining at Roussillon on a few occasions, I was generally impressed – everything from the service, to the subtly prepared food, through to the elegant little dining room demonstrated that Gauthier wanted his customers to come away having had a wonderful overall experience. And I think most people did.

It turns out the rumors were true, and although Gauthier still retains a small shareholding in Roussillon, he has now taken over the townhouse at 21 Romilly Street in Soho, which was home to Irish chef Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House before he moved on himself to open Corrigan’s Mayfair. I was lucky enough to dine at the new restaurant, which is matter-of-factly called Gauthier Soho, this week during the ‘soft opening’, and it opens for business on Monday the 17th of May. As such, the meal was complimentary and diners were asked to leave any token amount of money they felt like leaving as well as filling out detailed comment cards.

Making a house a home

I was dining with a foodie friend, and we both arrived promptly for our early dinner. The ebony and ivory facade looked subtle and classy, and we were glad to see that the design of the interior rooms had also been well thought out, especially given the constraints that an old townhouse could potentially create for a restaurant attempting to inhabit it.

Gauthier Soho’s Exterior

The four-story townhouse that the restaurant occupies is made up of a ground floor dining room with about 18 covers, a first floor dining room with approximately 24 covers, a third floor with two private rooms (one caters for up to 16, the other for up to six), and a fourth floor which houses the administrative offices. The kitchen resides in the basement and there is a temperature-controlled open wine cellar just behind the ground floor dining room (more on that later).

The Ground Floor Dining Room

The downstairs dining room is pleasantly formal and has a calming effect. In fact, you’d barely know you were in bustling Soho as inside the cool colors and soft lighting put you at ease straight away. There are lovely original features such as the fireplace and also beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers. We felt as if we were sitting in someone’s very posh residential dining room, so although it was formal, it was not at all too stiff.

Modern Rose Bath & Lantern Table Arrangement

The tables themselves are well spaced, allowing for private conversation, and nearly all of the two-person tables were arranged in the 10 o’clock / 2 o’clock format (which I much prefer), with only two tables having chairs positioned directly facing each other. The other thing I liked about the dining room was that there was no music. This is a pet peeve as I usually find the background music in restaurants either pointless or just plain grating. The tables themselves also had some nice modern details, with a red rose bathing in a spherical bowl and a cone-shaped translucent glass lantern.

A delicate & subtle hand

The menus were delivered and well explained to us. On the main menu, diners have the choice of three, four or five courses, and each course has four different options (with a few more possibilities thrown in at dessert time). These are priced at £27, £36 and £45 respectively and all include an amuse bouche, a pre-dessert and bottomless purified still and sparkling water. One interesting feature is that you can mix and match any of the dishes to form your desired three, four or five course meal (i.e. you could have two of the first plates, one of the third and a cheese plate while other members of your party could do something completely different). There is also a 12-course tasting menu priced at £70, which is also available in pure vegetarian format. Gauthier has always been a big proponent of utilizing the best British produce that is in season, and if you haven’t tried his vegetarian degustation menu before, it is really worth doing so. I think the menu is priced sensibly given the caliber of Gauthier’s cooking and the setting of the restaurant, and I love the fact that they have included the water free of charge as this can often be a not insignificant cost over the course of a meal in a fine dining restaurant.

Some of the staff have been brought with him from Roussillon, including the excellent sommelier Roberto della Pietra, who provided very good suggestions for the wine that accompanied our meal. Our waiter was pleasantly animated and professional, and once he realized I had eaten at Roussillon a few times, he went down to the kitchen and came back with a few suggestions from the chef that were not on the menu – so of course we weren’t going to say no.

Amuse Bouche: Chickpea Beignet with Whole Grain Mustard Dipping Sauce & Langoustine and Basil Toast

With our courses ordered, some amuse bouches were brought to the table. The chickpea beignets have been carried over from Roussillon. They are sinfully good, especially with a touch of the mustard dipping sauce, which is quite spicy, so don’t have too much. The little langoustine and basil numbers were pleasant enough, although a tad dry for me, with the langoustine not quite coming through strongly enough.

Assorted Freshly Baked Breads & Butter from Normandy

After the amuse bouches, a very attractive tray of freshly baked breads were brought out for us to choose from. The assortment included traditional French baguettes and a range of rolls, including black olive, tomato, bacon and wild garlic with a parmesan infused crust. We tried four of them and they were all excellent and constantly replenished, always arriving slightly warm and just out of the oven. The butters, one of which was slightly salted and the other unsalted, are both sourced from Normandy and were also of the highest quality.

Premier Plat A: Poached Duck Egg, Green Pea Velouté

My dining companion’s first course had stunning fresh pea flavor (very sweet) and a lovely runny duck’s egg in the center. I thought it was delicious, based on the one spoonful I was able to steal from her. :)

Premier Plat B: Lobster & Pigeon de Bresse

My first course was not on the menu as Alexis suggested something ‘special’ for us to taste from the kitchen. It was made up of slightly cooled lobster (which was feather soft and deliciously sweet), Pigeon de Bresse (which was perfectly pink and full of flavor), two types of salad leaves (one buttery soft and one crunchy) and a lovely little red sauce which was excellent when eaten in tandem with the pigeon. This posh ‘surf and turf’ was a great start to the meal.

Mousseron Mushrooms from Northern France

Our waiter also said that instead of having the risotto that was on the menu, Alexis would like to put a little twist on it by adding some mousseron mushrooms to the dish. I had never heard of them before, so the waiter brought out a silver bowl full of the little fungi to show to us.

Deuxième Plat: Wild Garlic Risotto, Chicken Jus Reduction, Mousseron Mushrooms, Parmesan Tuille

Alexis’ risottos were always a big strength at Roussillon, and this was no exception. The petit mousseron mushrooms worked well; they had quite a fleshy texture and were sort of like a really juicy piece of meat. The risotto itself was textbook – perfectly creamy, with the rice having just the right amount of bite left in it. The reduced chicken jus had a deep and rich flavor, which held the interest on the palate, and the razor-thin parmesan tuille added a nice contrast of sharpness and crunchiness. A really lovely dish.

Troisième Plat A: Smoked Salted Wild Sea Bass, White Asparagus, Melba Toast & Cèpes Mushrooms

My dining companion raved about this dish and thoroughly enjoyed every bite. I got a tiny taster, and also thought it was excellent. The fish had been handled with the utmost care and emerged on the plate with skin still glistening from the oven. It was delicious when taken with a small piece of the white asparagus which had been wrapped in the melba toast, which added a bit of crunch and saltiness. It was a really accomplished little fish dish.

Troisième Plat B: Red Mullet & Baby Squids, Fennel & Confit Tomatoes

My own fish course was less successful. The red mullet itself had also been cooked faultlessly and was presented beautifully. The squid was also nicely treated, being soft and not at all rubbery. My first reaction was that it tasted sort of like a ‘deconstructed bouillabaisse‘, not a bad thing in and of itself, but it somehow wasn’t the same without the rest of the stew. I then figured out when you ate everything together (including the celery, which still had a bit of crunch left in it, and the confit tomato), it then ‘worked’. But if you just had the fish with the squid and/or sauce it wasn’t quite as complete. I enjoyed it overall but not as much as the seabass.

2009 Borgo Sasso, Sicilia Bianco

The white wine that Roberto recommended (2009 Borgo Sasso, Sicilia Bianco) was perfect for our first three courses. It was particularly fragrant, but was neutral enough to go with the various dishes. It grew on me throughout the evening. It had a very good structure and a nice soft mouthfeel. It was fruity enough, with a touch of spice, and did evolve quite a bit as it sat in the glass – very enjoyable overall.

Quatrième Plat A: Angus Beef & Black Olives, Bone Marrow, Shallots & Swiss Chard (Plus a Side of Morels)

My friend’s Angus beef dish was excellent. The meat had been cooked superbly and was just a smidgen more than rare. The flavor and texture of the beef was spectacular, and surprisingly (to me at least) the sharp and salty olive flavor actually worked with the beef, when taken in small doses. The kitchen had suggested a side of morels to go with the beef, but my friend and I both agreed that they were too rich and didn’t really suit the dish, which was better off as it came originally, though we did appreciate tasting the delicious mushrooms in any case.

Bone Marrow Anyone?

The side of bone marrow was served open-faced and still in the bone on a gold-edged little plate and rested in a bed of sea salt (my heart fluttered for an instant as I thought back to St John’s benchmark version). It tasted good, although I wasn’t exactly sure how you were supposed to combine it with the dish as it was also very rich and another mushy texture. I just ate a bit of it on its own and also spread a bit on my baguette. It may have had a tad too much salt sprinkled on top for me.

Quatrième Plat B: Sweetbreads & Morels, Lettuce & Veal Jus

My meat course was also well executed. It was a very rich dish – but hey, what did I expect? The sweetbreads were cooked beautifully, balanced perfectly between being still just moist while at the same time having a firm enough texture. The veal jus was very rich, and complemented the sweetbreads well. I am a lover of morels and these didn’t disappoint. Everything worked together in concert here, although I was finally starting to get full at this point. :)

2008 Cuvée des Drilles, Domaine d'Escausses

The red wine recommend by Roberto to go with my main course of sweetbreads was the 2008 Cuvée des Drilles, Domaine d’Escausses. It hails from the Southwest of France and is made up of 3 grapes: Duras (80%), Iron Servadou (10%) and Gamay (10%). There was a lot going on in this wine, especially on the nose, with the Gamay lending a particular fragrance, despite being such a small part of the overall mix. It had a nice gentle spice and some good red fruit, and to my surprise it went really well with the rich sweetbreads dish (I should have trusted Mr. della Pietra!).

The Dessert Menu – Ooh La La

Whereas the first four courses had been printed on the main menu, the dessert options were listed on a separate little menu and included a range of sweets and a selection of cheeses. We had a difficult time making our minds up, but our deliberation turned out to pay dividends.

Pre-Dessert Palate Cleanser: Strawberries & Basil Granita

Before the main desserts arrived, we were presented with a dainty little palate cleanser. Sure, strawberry and basil is a classic combination, but it was carried out very successfully here. Sweet strawberry mixed with crushed, basil-infused ice. ‘Nuff said. :)

Cinquième Plat A: Raspberry Millefeuille, Red Fruits Sorbet

My friend loved her dessert. I had a bite too (of course…) and thought that the pastry was nice and light and that the raspberries were perfectly sweet and tart. The sorbet was good, but not amazing. We both thought it was a very pretty and satisfying dessert.

Cinquième Plat B: Golden Louis XV, Dark Chocolate & Pralin

This is another Gauthier classic which has been transported from Roussillon to Gauthier Soho, and thank goodness – it’s divine. It begins with a base of chewy hazelnut meringue, then there is a layer of what I believe is white chocolate and hazelnut croquante, then there is a rich chocolate mousse and then some exceedingly good plain chocolate is melted around the outer layer, providing a luscious consistency. Finally, this regal dessert is crowned with edible gold leaf. It is a downright naughty dessert, and I enjoyed every bite!

Petit Fours: Shortbread, Chocolate Truffles, Financier

Even though we elected not to have tea or coffee, we were still provided with petit fours. All of them were very good. The financier was one of the better I’ve had and the homemade shortbread was first-class, as were the rich and not overly buttery or overly sweet truffles.

The last laugh

My friend and I decided to have a look around the rest of the townhouse and spent a bit of time in the cellar with Roberto. Just as at Roussillon, the wine list is at Gauthier Soho is excellent, with over two-thirds sourced from France and about one-third emanating from the Southwest, Roussillon, Languedoc, Jura and Savoie regions – the list is full of unusual wines from interesting producers and tends to complement Gauthier’s style of cooking. He explained that all of the wines available on the restaurant’s wine list were also available for retail sale directly from the cellar (sans the mark-up), which has all of Gauthier Soho’s wines on display. This is a great innovation, and one which I have seen at only a few higher-end restaurants, as if a customer tastes a wine that they love, they don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to source it but can instead just pick up a bottle, a half-case or a case from the restaurant directly at a competitive price. Roberto also said that they will be able to arrange delivery, and can also create mixed half-cases and cases by special arrangement.

As we returned to our table, everyone in the dining room seemed a bit more jolly and animated than before. They informed me that I had left my camera on the chair and should be more careful in looking after it in the future. Then one gentleman proceeded to ask me if I was a restaurant critic and we got on the subject of blogging, which they seemed to find interesting. It was only after my friend and I arrived at our next destination (we went to Milk & Honey’s Red Room for a nightcap), that we saw what the other diners had done.

The Other Guests Certainly Enjoyed Themselves!

Yes, they had taken funny photos of themselves with my camera – we nearly spit out our drinks with laughter when we saw these hilarious photos.

A promising start

We had a very enjoyable meal at Gauthier Soho, and it’s almost hard to believe that they had only been open for four days when we dined there. Things ran remarkably smoothly all things considered. The only niggles were that a few of the newly recruited staff members were still finding their feet and a few appeared slightly nervous (but I suppose this is to be expected), and we had a rather long wait between our third and fourth courses as the restaurant was then fully booked. I recall saying to my dining companion that although the menu format is somewhat of a triumph for the diner, it must be an absolute nightmare for the kitchen as you are free to order any combination of the three, four or five courses that you wish.

As the above commentary suggests, the food was on the whole very enjoyable and precisely executed. To me, Gauthier’s strength is his delicate handling of primary ingredients (i.e. fish and meat are nearly always cooked flawlessly, and he is a master of presenting vegetables in a new light) and his subtle and sometimes unusual flavor combinations, which often lend a certain Mediterranean streak to what is otherwise quite traditional Southern French cuisine. Strangely enough, we only had one course which was totally vegetarian on this occasion (the green pea velouté), but there were lots of veggie options on offer throughout the main menu. Gauthier Soho seems to have created a very pleasant backdrop to showcase Alexis’ refined cuisine, and from what I could tell on this preview visit, he might look to experiment a little more in this new venue, both in terms of the format of the menu and the composition of his dishes – but the cooking and experience remains much the same as it was at Roussillon.

His decision to move house to Soho is a telling one, as for me, this is where a lot of the most exciting, fun and enjoyable new openings have sprung up in the last few years. I truly hope he also finds Soho to be a good home for his kitchen and his team, and the opening of Gauthier Soho is certainly another welcome addition to the growing stable of diverse and desirable dining destinations in the neighbourhood.

*Note: I have dined at Gauthier Soho once and, as it was for dinner during their ‘soft opening’, the meal was complementary.*

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McGuigan Goes Walkabout to Roussillon

A criminally good idea

The Aussies vs. The French

There are some invitations Laissez Fare does not turn down. After briefly meeting Chris Mitchell, one of the head honchos at Cube Communications (a boutique PR firm focusing on the wine trade) at the recent Blaggers’ Banquet, I somehow found myself getting an invite to one such event. A no-show was not an option.

The innovative and maybe somewhat ambitious plan was to pair the wines of one of Australia’s hottest wine producers with the light and refined French cuisine of Alexis Gauthier, who is head chef at the 1 Michelin star Roussillon, which is set on a quiet residential street in London’s Pimlico. The premise? Could Australian wines – which for so long have unfortunately been thought of as ‘sun in a bottle’ by many consumers, despite fairly radical revolutions in recent times at many of Australia’s wineries – blend in with the elegance and subtleness of Mr. Gauthier’s cuisine. Would they overpower and clash, or would they meld just as easily as French wine would? Even if they didn’t, I was much looking forward to a second visit to Roussillon, which was one of the first restaurants I reviewed on this blog, and which Mrs. LF and I enjoyed very much.

Shortly after arriving, we were appropriately plied with drink. All of McGuigan’s entry-level wines (which have a gray label in the UK) were on offer. As I tasted through them, I was introduced to Neil McGuigan, who is an MD at the company and oversees viticulture and winemaking at the eponymous firm. He is a very down to earth and affable fellow, and his love for humor becomes apparent quite quickly. One of the little anecdotes he told me, of which there were many, was the fact that his great-great grandfather had been deported from the UK to Australia for being a criminal. You see, he had stolen some wine from a nobleman, and Neil explained that his family had been trying to pay the world back for his ancestor’s transgressions ever since. Tuh-dum (drum roll please). It was hard to believe this laid-back dude was the at the helm of such a big winemaker, which is now one of the top-10 brands of Australian wine in the UK.

Neil gets serious...just for a minute

I was even more surprised when Chris asked Neil to give a little introductory speech, which while still peppered with his own brand of comedy, was also very eloquent, informative and to the point.

But we had rambled enough and it was time for the main event.

By the way, most of the wines from the classic range were quite pleasant and quaffable, and I remember particularly liking the Sauvignon Blanc, the Chardonnay (which had ripe apple and not too much oak), and the Pinot Grigio (which I found to be less fruity than Italian versions I’m familiar with, and which oddly seemed to have the aroma of petrol I normally associate with Riesling).

Some ‘pretty good piss’

So into Roussillon’s downstairs private dining room we went…

The table was set...as were our places...

...and the chef was explaining his special menu...

Alexis came in to go through the menu in detail and explain how, in theory, the wine should complement the food and vice versa. I was quite excited to taste what was on offer, especially after having recently seen chef Gauthier on Masterchef: The Professionals, where Marianne Lumb and viewers of the programme discovered his disdain for timers – indeed, he decides when things are cooked to the desired specification purely by touch and feel. I just hoped my lamb wouldn’t be totally raw!

I was also eager to taste the higher-end wines form McGuigan. Earlier on, as I tried to explain my struggle to better explain verbally how wines tasted to me, Neil had said that when he really enjoys a wine, he just says it’s “some pretty good piss.” Although it was a light-hearted joke, I did take what I gathered to be his point: that you should just enjoy really good wine, and not worry too much about trying to make sure you can describe it in exact detail. I just hoped that his top-end wines wouldn’t taste like, erm…

The basket of bread was full to the brim – woohoo!

While waiting for the first course to arrive, I hunkered down on one of the lovely little baguettes on offer, which was accompanied by some high quality French beurre.

Lobster & Purple Basil: Light Lobster Bisque Infused with Purple Basil with Scallops & Confit Tomato Tortellini – Paired with 2004 Earth’s Portrait Riesling

I enjoyed the lobster bisque, which was rich while remaining fairly light, and I did note that the purple basil was present but much milder than its green cousin, and that it worked well with the seafood flavors. I loved the two little tortellini in the center, too. I found that the Riesling’s acidity cut through the creaminess of the bisque rather well but, for me, the pairing didn’t set the world on fire. I didn’t feel that the wine either added to or detracted from the dish. Maybe being fairly new to Riesling myself, I just don’t ‘get it’ yet, but the wine wasn’t one I would probably go back to.

Wild Sea Bass & Razor Clams: Grilled Cut of Wild Sea Bass, Steamed Razor Clams with Szechuan Pepper & Lightly Spiced Fish Velouté – Paired with 2003 Bin 9000 Semillon

The next combination worked much better for my palate. The sea bass itself had been delicately cooked, and had a lovely soft firmness. I am a sucker for razor clams and felt that they worked well here. Looking at the description of the dish, I don’t now recall the pepper and spice that is alluded to, but I did like the dish overall, even though it didn’t really pack a punch. Peter Hall, the winemaker, was on hand to describe his Semillon himself. He explained that Hunter Valley Semillon is “one of the most distinct wines from Australia,” and that it is a lighter, finer style with usually about 9.5% – 10.5% ABV. Apparently, they have ‘Semillon & Seafood’ days locally, as the taste of the sea goes so well with this grape variety. I generally agreed with him in this case. The wine exhibited strong citrus and lime and had a wonderful structure. It didn’t dominate and seemed perfectly happy to swish along with the fish in my mouth. Peter mentioned that it was still “a little ways off yet”, and that its full toastiness and golden color were not quite showing through yet. I would certainly be happy to sample some more of that wine in a few years’ time.

Milk Fed Lamb & Thyme: Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb Rubbed with Thyme, with Parmesan & Swiss Chard Gratin & Thyme Infused Lamb Jus – Paired with 2008 Shortlist Cabernet Sauvignon

The third course was highly enjoyable. The milk fed lamb was stupidly soft and had a mild and fine flavor which was subtly accented by the thyme. I was a little worried that a Cabernet Sauvignon might overpower a dish of such finesse, but I was wrong. The wine itself was very young (being a 2008), and my notes indicate that there was blackcurrant on the palate, that the wine was thick but not tannic (quite soft), that it was fairly jammy and fruit forward, and that there was a touch of spice present. The flavor of the wine actually went pretty well with the dish, especially the rich lamb jus. Neil pointed out that McGuigan was making a big push to give varietal definition to its range, especially at premium price points. He added that this wine was, after all, “only a baby” and that it had a “terrific future,” with the “oak being subservient to the fruit.” I agreed and think this will make a fantastic wine at its peak.

Blue d’Auvergne & Madeira: Feuillette of Blue Cheese, Madeira Reduction Jus, with Wild Rocket & Red Chard Salad – Paired with 2008 Handmade Shiraz

I don’t think I quite ‘got’ the last savory course. To me it seemed to be a nice, crispy puff pastry that was meant to have cheese inside, but that about 90% of that cheese had been sucked out prior to serving, leaving only the aroma and a few remnants of that blue from Auvergne. Possibly like so many other things, its subtly had passed me by. In any case, the Shiraz was a winner. It had a deep purple hue; it was voluptuous, rich, supple, and not overly tannic or oaky. This was not an aggressive Syrah from the Northern Rhone, it was a classically velvety red that had gentle spice and is bound to age well. I personally didn’t understand the pairing here, although chef Gautier said that the sweetness of the Madeira reduction should have gone well with the Shiraz flavors (black fruits)…

Quince & Yogurt: Quince & Sultana Parfait, Honey & Yogurt Sorbet – Paired with 2005 Personal Reserve Botrytis Semillon

But I soon forgot my little quandary when this little slice of heaven arrived, paired with some rather divine golden nectar from down under. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and ‘tis also the season for that elusive yellow fruit called quince. This parfait was indeed parfait. It was gently cooled, firm, soft and full of that unique quince flavor, which had the softest touch of sultana essence infused throughout. The sorbet was creamy, dreamy and retained that tartness of yogurt which beautifully balanced the sweetness of the parfait. But the real discovery was how well the sesame tuile combined with the sweet wine – bloody brilliant. I really loved this dessert wine, which is made in the Sauterne style, and was much finer than other may Australian sweeties I’ve tasted. Peter said that it was not common for botrytis to develop in the Hunter Valley, and that they only made in a “hit and miss” fashion. Most recently, they have produced it in 2005, 2008 and 2009. If I remember correctly, I don’t think you can yet buy this in the UK, so there’s probably not too much point in rambling on about how much I liked it anymore :)

At the end of the rather extended luncheon, chef Gauthier re-emerged to share a celebratory glass with Neil, which was a fitting end to a great 3-hour partnership between the Aussies and the French.

The two creators smile & celebrate a job well done

I came away from the meal with a greater appreciation of McGuigan’s wines, which I had hencetoforth only tasted in their entry-level form. Neil explained over lunch that they were striving to innovate, modernize and drive their higher-end wines to become really special, and that this would have positive ramifications for their wines at every price point. I certainly did get the feeling that these guys care very much about making excellent wines and also liked the fact that they seem to have a great time doing it.

Their success has not gone unnoticed either, as Neil himself was recently awarded White Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine Challenge and McGuigan Wines was a few weeks ago crowned Winemaker of the Year and Australian Producer of the Year at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.

What else can I say but “Good-on-yah mayte” in my best Australian accent?

* * *

Many thanks to Chris and the Cube Communications for organizing the meal.

If you’re interested in eating at Roussillon, they have a number of good value deals, including a 3-course price-fixe lunch menu which includes ½ a bottle of wine for £35/person. All contact details and menus can be found on their website.

McGuigan Wines are broadly available at Majestic, Tesco and many other supermarkets and wine merchants nationwide.

Roussillon on Urbanspoon

Roussillon – A Class Act

Roussillon
16 St Barnabas Street
London W1W 8PE
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Menu Dégustation at £75/person and Menu Légumes at £65/person

Roussillon seems to quietly delight in its subtle defiance of established central London gastronomy: it is just off the beaten bath, with a slightly different approach & an independent soul – it is a unique, classy, satisfying & highly worthwhile dining experience

Roussillon seems to quietly delight in its subtle defiance of established central London gastronomy: it is just off the beaten bath, with a slightly different approach & an independent soul – it is a unique, classy, satisfying & highly worthwhile dining experience

The Lonely Star of Pimlico?

For me, the word Roussillon conjures up images of Provence – Luberon to be exact. It is here that this beautiful little hilltop village perches pristinely in the heart of the Vaucluse, its ‘Colorado’ red cliff-sides nearby, and not far off the magical mountain village of Gordes, the bustling markets of Apt and the quiet streets of Lacoste. Yes, I’ve spent many a hot July day (but never enough) vacationing in this lovely corner of the world, and never felt more at ease. The hot Provançale sun, the landscapes that inspired Cezanne, and the distinct colors and flavors of the local fruit and vegetables.

Ah yes, the distinct flavors of local fruit and vegetables…this is surely how this lovely little region of Southern France connects to the lovely little independent French restaurant on a sleepy street in London’s Pimlico neighborhood. But no, the Roussillon I am referring to is not the same one from which this restaurant takes its inspiration. Rather, it refers to Côtes du Roussillon, which as chef Alexis Gauthier explains is “a very up-and-coming wine region of France…which makes some amazingly good one at a low price.” In fact, at his restaurant they have a number of stellar wines for between £14-25/bottle as well as having many of the more expensive wines you would expect from a Michelin starred establishment.

Star, you say? Yes, Roussillon has been the holder of a Michelin star for some time now, and despite achieving such consistent standards, the restaurant certainly seems to have garnered less attention than many of its starred London counterparts. I first heard of the place a few years ago, and somehow never felt an overwhelming urge to visit it until recently, when I began reading about how much some of my fellow food bloggers like it. So, a few weeks ago I decided to book a table for a Saturday night.

But back to the connecting point of fruit and vegetables – well mostly the vegetables. You see, Roussillon seems to have been the first fine dining establishment in London to offer a completely vegetarian tasting menu. And quite unusually for a French chef in a fine London restaurant, Mr. Gauthier is a real fan of British produce. In fact, the menu is to a significant extent constructed around the best, most fresh local ingredients that can be found – instead of relying on a core set of classic French dishes which feature on the menu for 10+ years. “We pride ourselves on the vegetables and all of the vegetarian dishes that we prepare…[we are] probably one of the only gastronomic restaurants in Great Britain that makes a full tasting menu around vegetables,” he explains. Gauthier’s keen interest in local produce is also evidenced by the fact that he was instrumental in setting up the New Covent Garden Soup business, which was sold prior to him opening Roussillon.

So, excited and intrigued by the prospect of this little restaurant, Mrs. LF and I arrived at St Barnabas Street enthusiastically early for our dinner.

Not so Lonely After All, Then

The exterior of the restaurant is pleasant enough to look at, with a prominent semi-circular bay window jutting out from the center of the facade. It is certainly a surprise to find a restaurant on this residential side street off of the lovely Pimlico Road.

When you enter Roussillon, you almost feel as if you are entering someone’s home, and it is decorated in the manner that a stylish (and wealthy) host or hostess might decorate their own large dining room. Very tasteful indeed. Unscathed white walls with mustard accents and appropriate paintings that are there but not in your face; attractive aubergine chairs; crisp white tablecloths; sophisticated downlighting; immaculate carpeting; fine crystal; shiny cutlery; fresh flowers floating in water in little individual glass vases. Check.

When we did step through the door, we immediately got the vibe that we may have arrived to early for them though, as they were still laying some of the tables and the gentleman standing at reception (who turned out to be the sommelier) was resolutely focused on the screen in front of him and seemed slightly perturbed that we had walked in at just that minute. In any case, our French waitress came to the rescue, showed us to the dining room and let us choose between a few different tables. We selected one facing out from the wall where we could sit on the same side of the table as each other – which is always more pleasant for couples in my view.

As we were one of the first tables to arrive, it was very quiet to start with, but around 8pm the restaurant seemed to fill up all at once; well, at least our half of the restaurant did. For some reason (help?), they decided to seat all of the guests on the far side of the restaurant. It therefore got quite loud, quite quickly – something I hadn’t been expecting. To be fair, this was in large part due to the stentorian voice of the elderly Australian gentleman sitting next to us, but it was certainly noisier than I had envisaged for a romantic dinner for me and the missus. It was also very hot inside for me, possibly because there didn’t appear to be any A/C vents on our side of the restaurant, but then again it was one of those unusually warm evenings we’ve been having in London as of late.

Soon, canapés were received and menus were handed out, and things began to roll. We eventually decided to go for the (normal) tasting menu and the vegetarian version of the tasting menu. The sommelier came over, was very professional and helpful, and we eventually arrived at a bottle of wine that would hopefully suit both menus – we were not feeling up to the full pairing option on this occasion, especially as we had driven there!

The service up to this stage had been very professional and quietly reserved. I liked the fact that the staff all had consistent, well designed uniforms, appeared to be very focused on what they were doing, and definitely took their roles seriously. Well, I can hear Speedy Gonzalez in my ear, saying “Ándale, ándale, arriba, arriba”, so onto the food we go…

The Meal, etc.

The canapés were excellent and were good precursors of things to come. Served on a single plate, they comprised of chickpea beignets with whole grain mustard dipping sauce and smoked eel with roasted apples. The beignets looked like thick-cut chips and were fried perfectly – light and crisp on the outside with a soft chickpea center, with the mustard sauce complementing them to a tee. The flavor of the smoky eel went well with the little bits of apple on top of them, and our appetites were duly whetted.

Before the courses of the main meal, we were offered a wide assortment of breads. The bacon and onion roll was of particular note, but unfortunately the crust on the classic mini-baguettes was not crunchy enough (we tried two just to make sure).

The assistant sommelier came over to confirm our wine selection, showing us the bottle and then letting us try it. We had chosen the 2005 Jurançon Sec “Chant des Vignes”, Domaine Cauhapé (Southwest France), the sommelier’s keenest recommendation at £44/bottle, which is made from the local Gros Manseng grape. The nose of this wine was outstanding and very memorable. It had hints of the tropical (pineapple, grapefruit and a hint of banana) and I also detected a touch of minty-ness. On the palate, it retained its fruitiness, exhibited some lively spiciness, and had a great streak of acidic minerality. It had great grip and body too. It was perfectly nice sipping it on its own. I would highly recommend this wine if you haven’t had it before, especially as it looks like you can get it for around £12/bottle on the internet.

As we both had tasting menus, I think it will be too complicated to go through both the menus in tandem, so I have listed the dishes below, along with salient comments.

Menu Dégustation

  1. Lobster & Tomato Tortellini, Lobster Broth Infused with Lemon Grass. This was a very pleasant dish. It came with the tortellini naked in the middle of the shallow white bowl, and the waiter then poured the broth in. The tortellini itself was miniscule but well done, with the flavor of the lobster and the tomato melding well and coming through fully. The broth tasted fresh and but was not overly flavorful – according to my own taste, it needed a bit of salt, but I understood that possibly it had been served this way on purpose in order to emphasize the freshness of the produce (?). 7/10.
  2. Foie Gras & Almond, Broad Beans & Peas Sautéed Together with Light Madeira Jus. An excellent dish all around, executed very well. The foie gras came in much the same shape as a plump mini-baguette, except of course that it was dark brown and covered with sliced, toasted almonds. It was cooked the way that I like seared foie gras, and wasn’t overly soft and jiggly. The almond flavor was a very nice accent to the richness of the foie gras and the slight sweetness that came from the memorable Madeira jus. The green vegetables surprisingly worked very well, as they offset some of that rich sweetness with their summer freshness. Again, it seemed like it could have used more salt to bring out more of the foie gras flavor (maybe my palate is too salty?!). 8.5/10.
  3. Summer Black Truffle Risotto, Parmesan & Brown Butter (with Beef Stock). This was a near triumph for me. The risotto was almost perfect; the rice was al dente (but about 10-15 seconds too much so for me), and was surrounded by creamy, soft elegance. The black summer truffles, which have a completely different flavor to black winter truffles and are much milder, were excellent and infused the dish with their unique aroma and taste. The parmesan sharpness cut through all of that rich indulgence. The brown butter sauce provided even more depth of flavor and an extra tang of saltiness, which I thought it needed. My version apparently had beef in the stock. 9/10.
  4. Grilled John Dory, Roasted Baby Aubergine, Ratatouille Jus. The fish was cooked perfectly and was a well-sized portion (not too big!). The roasted aubergines were rich and sweet, and the jus was very good. I didn’t personally think the aubergines went overly well with the fish, but it tasted fine together. This dish just doesn’t stick out in my memory like some of the others. 6.5/10.
  5. Pink Grilled Squab Pigeon, Glazed Sweet & Sour Baby Beetroots, Fresh Black Figs & Chard Leaf Salad. The flavors of this dish were excellently conceived. I am not an expert on pigeon by any stretch of the imagination (or game birds in general), but for me the pigeon breast wasn’t cooked as it should have been. I wanted it to be redder, and for the skin to be crispier (is it supposed to be crispy? I really don’t know). The little leg, however, was crispier and absolutely scrumptious. The beetroots gave the whole dish a wonderful sweet & sourness (as advertised), and the black figs were another unusual yet very successful combination. Had the pigeon breast been a bit rarer, this would have been an 8/10, but alas, it gets 7/10.
  6. Truffle Brillat – Savarin & Baby Leaves Salad. By this point I was getting pretty full (remember that I was also tasting all of Mrs. LF’s dishes…in the name of research, of course). So what better to have next than some cheese and more truffles?! Before the cheese arrived, we asked the sommelier for a recommendation of a glass of sweet wine to have with the cheese. By this time, he had warmed to us and decided he would make it a surprise by selecting something himself, which we were very open to, given the quality of his earlier recommendation. It turned out to be a 2001 Vendemmia Tardiva (Canneto, Italy), which is made from the Traminer grape. He poured the one portion into two small dessert wine glasses, so we could both have some, which was a nice touch. The cheese itself was a cow’s cheese from Burgundy and was quite soft and mild; the truffles added a nice, well, truffle flavor :), but we didn’t feel that the accompanying dark olive tapenade added much to the dish, though it wasn’t particularly offensive either. We both liked the wine, although we had very different opinions about the start and the finish of it (I thought it started bitter and finished sweeter, but Mrs. LF thought the opposite). Anyway, it worked well, and had notes of sharp marmalade and a bittersweet caramel. 6/10 for the cheese plate.
  7. Fresh Raspberries, Champagne Sorbet & White Chocolate Tuille. The first of my desserts was excellent. The raspberries had good sweetness (I find the raspberries you tend to get in England are often way too bitter), and the white chocolate disc that covered them was creamy and delightful against the sharpness of the raspberries. The champagne sorbet was right at home, although I was a bit disappointed that it very quickly seemed to melt into a pool of transparent liquid and didn’t retain its icy texture – it tasted damn good though. 8.5/10.
  8. Louis XV, Crunchy Praline. This was a small, very dark round-ish chocolate dessert with a tiny bit of gold leaf placed on its crown. It was served on a correspondingly very large white plate (a nice effect). It was pretty close to perfection, with the dark chocolate, praline and thin & delicate biscuit base all working together to provide a flavor explosion in your mouth. 9/10.

Menu Légumes

  1. Chilled Broad Bean & Thyme Cream, Herb Salad. The broad beans were fairly raw (or maybe completely raw?) and had a bitter, slightly nutty taste. Around the broad beans and herb salad was poured a frothy thyme cream, which gave this dish a delicate lightness. Mrs. LF said it was very “precious” – in a good way – but didn’t think it had a ‘wow’ factor. 6/10.
  2. Soft Potato Gnocchi Rolled in Parmesan, Sautéed Mousseron & Courgette Flower Tempura. My better half said this was the knock-out dish of the evening for her, and she is still banging on about it. “This is the kind of dish that makes you realize you don’t need meat to have a satisfying meal! The meatiness of the sautéed mousseron mushrooms provided the heartiness that the dish required,” she noted. The gnocchi was perfectly cooked too, and I thought the fried courgette flower was really delicious (yes, she did let me have a bite or two). 10/10.
  3. Summer Black Truffle Risotto, Parmesan & Brown Butter. See comments above, however, Mrs. LFnoted that had it been served with a vegetable stock similar to that of the one served in the non-vegetarian menu (this version didn’t have a stock at all), it would have been significantly enhanced. 8/10.
  4. Green Ricotta Quenelles, Sautéed Girolles & Crispy Sage. Mrs. LF is not the biggest fan of ricotta cheese in savory dishes, as she finds it a bit bland and prefers it in desserts, so didn’t particularly like the quenelles (I thought they were fine). Both of us agreed that the sautéed girolles were way too salty and really stood out (in a bad way) because of this. The sage tempura was nice to look at but didn’t really add anything to the dish. 5/10.
  5. Summer Baby Vegetables Cooked Together, Aged Balsamic Reduction. Mrs. LF commented: “This was essentially a vegetable jardinière, which is usually served as an accompaniment to something else more substantial. Here, however, the baby vegetables were placed in the spotlight and therefore had a lot to live up to. Each individual vegetable stood out and they were fresh and cooked perfectly. But in the end, it was still a jardinière and it was just lacking that extra ingredient which would have provided an extra oomph to complete the dish. As nice as it was, for the main course of the menu, it just doesn’t stack up, especially when your dining companion may be having pigeon or lamb.” 7/10.
  6. Truffle Brillat – Savarin & Baby Leaves Salad. See comments above.
  7. Cherry “Griottes” Mousse, Almond Biscuit & Lime Sorbet. I don’t remember this dish. The missus said that it was a very tiny portion and that while it was very pretty to look at (with a decoration of red sugary shards on top), it was sort of pointless as she’d rather have one dessert that was substantial and memorable rather than two desserts, one of which pales in comparison to the other (and in this case, the Louis XV clearly came up trumps). She did however highly rate the cherry “griottes” mousse – which reminded her of Petit Filous – which went well with the texture of the almond biscuit, but thought the lime sorbet was just too sharp and didn’t go with the rest of the dessert. 6.5/10.
  8. Louis XV, Crunchy Praline. See comments above.

Overall, Mrs. LF said she adored the vegetarian tasting menu and for the most part really didn’t miss the meat at all.

I finished off the meal with a single espresso, which was made ‘long’, just as I like it. It was accompanied by some petit fours, which included 2 peach marshmallows (soft, creamy and dreamy), 2 of the best chocolate truffles I’ve had in a while, 2 almond financiers and 2 florentines, both of which were good. There was also a nice little touch at the end of the meal, when the waiter gave my wife a box of macaroons in a pretty little Roussillon box to take home.

The service was excellent throughout our rather extended stay at Roussillon. After initially being quite reserved and neutral, a number of the waiters began to show their personality and became engaging while always maintaining their professionalism. After the desserts had been served, I kept joking that I was still hungry and wanted to start all over again. They definitely called my bluff by rolling out a divine cheese trolley which unfortunately I was too stuffed to seriously contemplate. We all had a good laugh, though.

As we left, the Maître d’ showed us out and we stood lingering on the steps a while longer discussing the Wimbledon results. We leisurely strolled back to our car, both feeling happy and content with our experience at Roussillon – it had been a delightful evening.

Lingering Thoughts

Without a doubt, Roussillon is one of London’s hidden treasures. It provides a unique dining experience as it independent in every sense of the word. It is one man’s vision, with a dedicated team to help him execute it. And it works well. The dining space is very pleasant, and you can tell that the restaurant is not part of a chain or attached to a hotel. The service is professional and discreet. The menu is a breath of fresh air, changes frequently, and the food is generally executed to a very high standard, although there were occasional lapses and a few debatable flavor combinations on this particular occasion. I think the restaurant deserves its star from the robust French man covered in white rubber tubes, and certainly has the potential to achieve more.

Chef Gauthier says that, for him, having dinner at Roussillon should be “…a grand evening; it’s not just sitting, eating and going. It is something that we want you to remember, and we make sure that you do remember, through the wine, through the food and through the service.”

Well, I don’t think I could have put it better myself.

Rating

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 9/10

Food: 8/10

Wine: 8/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at Roussillon once. And, in case you were wondering, I am not a professional journalist, so all quotes from Alexis Gauthier have been taken from a video on the restaurant’s Facebook page, where the proprietor introduces the concept and ethos of the restaurant.*

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