Le Gavroche – Unfortunately a Very Mixed Bag

Le Gavroche
43 Upper Brook Street
London W1K 7QR
Website
Map
Online Reservations

Menu Exceptionnel (8-course tasting menu) at £95/person and wine pairing at £55/person

Poor service, a few excellent dishes & many average, superb wine pairing –  overall a very mixed bag for a 2 Michelin starred restaurant

Poor service, a few excellent dishes & many average, superb wine pairing – overall a very mixed bag for a 2 Michelin starred restaurant

The Build Up

I had wanted to dine at Le Gavroche for a long time.  After all, it is historically one of the most haloed institutions of high cuisine in London, and probably the UK.  Before it was set up in 1967 by the now legendary Roux brothers (Michel and Albert), it was apparently impossible to find foie gras or poulet de bresse in the UK.  They brought grand French dining to the shores of the UK.  The restaurant has held 2 Michelin stars since 1993, and before that it had 3 Michelin stars beginning from 1982.  The kitchen counts such graduates as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing.  After being properly introduced to Michel Roux Jr., the current Chef Patron, through the BBC’s program Masterchef: The Professionals, I really liked him and respected his precise palette, seeming mastery of the classics, and technical knowledge in the kitchen.  So, in summary, you could say I was more than eagerly awaiting our opportunity to dine at this much celebrated landmark of Franco-Anglo gastronomy.

The Front of House, the Last of Priorities?

We were a tad bit ahead of schedule for our rather early 6.30pm reservation (the only time I could secure on a Saturday night).  Upon entering the rather subdued exterior – it sort of looks like the entrance to a posh block of apartments, except for the little Relais & Châteaux brass plaque you might notice on your left as you walk in – we were very pleasantly and efficiently greeted by the smiling the Maître d’, Emmanuel Landré.  After finding our name in their book, we were led through the little lounge/bar on the ground floor (we were not offered an aperitif, which I had been informed was the norm), and then down the stairs to the main dining room.

After being seated, we had a chance to look around and soak up the atmosphere without being accused of staring at anyone (a particular strength of the missus, but hey, she is French) as there were only a few tables seated at this point.  I won’t spend too much time on the decor, but suffice to say it is a very traditional dining space that is well laid out.  Many of the tables for 2 have the seats positioned at 5 and 7 o’clock (if you imagine the round tables to be a clock) which makes for good intimacy and privacy.  Once the room began to fill up, there was some background noise, but it was barely noticeable and was very easy to hear each other in normal voices.  There are also nice little odd touches abounding, such as a metal sculpture of a different animal on each table, decorative plates with a colourful illustration containing Michel’s face, and the restaurant’s own silverware which has ‘Le Gavroche’ (the little boy from Les Misérables) carved into the bottom of the knife and fork.  So far so good, then.

After my wife visited the facilities, some canapés were placed in front of us.  We didn’t quite understand what they were, as it was explained very quickly and softly to us.  One of them was a little rectangular brown biscuit that we believe was topped with a squeeze of thick green Roquefort paste with some type of orange roe on top of it.  It was excellent with a perfect balance of richness from the cheese being offset by the tart and tangy roe.  The other canapé was a fried disc with a center cavity that oozed some type of gooey pork ragout.  The filling didn’t have that much flavour or nuance but the outer crust had been fried properly and was light and crisp.

After finishing the canapés we meandered through the menu (and I through the very impressive wine list), trying to decide what to have.  I had always wanted to try the 8-course tasting menu here (they call it the ‘Menu Exceptionnel’) as I figured this is one of the places it’s probably worth having the tasting menu: you get to try 8 different courses that the chef has selected without having to share any of it with the rest of the table!  You see, in my family, we have the policy of tasting each other’s dishes (all of them) and this can sometimes be frustrating when something is so good you want to have it all to yourself.  I could tell my wife was not leaning toward the tasting menu, but in the end I think she decided to appease me and we went for it, even though it had some dishes which we definitely wouldn’t have ordered off of the standard appetizer/main course menu.  I also went for the full wine pairing (how could I resist?), while my counterpart decided to take the evening by the glass.  As a side note, I did like the novelty of the woman’s menu not having prices on it, and for the sake of fair disclosure, the tasting menu was £95 each, and the wine pairing was a further £55/person.

Well this, my friends, is where things unfortunately took a definite turn for the worse.  While we were studying the menus, the head waiter – or at least the guy who appeared to be in charge of the floor – came to our table and rather abruptly asked us what we would like to order.  No “good evening, how are you, my name is so-and-so and I will be your waiter”, not even a “hello”.  In most restaurants, this would be unpleasant but would pass quickly from one’s mind, but this came from the head waiter of a 2-star Michelin restaurant that is built upon a reputation of service excellence.  We told him that we were still trying to decide and he quickly disappeared.  He returned and then took our orders without any interaction whatsoever.  We found the whole experience a bit cold and mechanical, and hoped that the food would make up for what had been a rather frosty reception.

Prior to the first course coming out, the sommelier came to serve the first accompanying wine and to help Mrs. LF select a glass of white.  She was very young and pleasant, but was also quite timid and seemed to lack a little bit in confidence, which sometimes made it difficult to understand what she was saying.  Although the woman was perfectly nice and seemed knowledgeably, in this type of establishment you really expect and want someone who is more assertive and can help guide you to select something that he or she knows will be good with the food and is confident you will enjoy.  Anyway, she poured my 2005 Pouilly Fuissé “Aux Chailloux” from Domaine Jean Pierre Sève, which smelled amazing – lots of oak and rich complexity going on in the nose.  And that placated me for the time being.

Before going onto the food, and there was a lot of it🙂, I would like to round off my comments on the service for the night, which was extremely disappointing and put a real damper on the entire evening.

It all has to do with the same head waiter mentioned above.  Throughout the meal, he said nothing to us aside from mumble what we were about to eat for the courses he served us (strangely, different waiters served different courses), which was a completely pointless exercise as we had the full menu and wine pairing staring us right in the face as it had been propped up like a standing open book on the opposite side of the table!  When we asked him a little later on what had been in that deep fried canapé (we were really curious), all he could offer was one word: “pork”, and we had to make him repeat himself as we couldn’t even understand this one word.  How can the head waiter at such a restaurant say “pork”, full stop?  It was a liquid filling, so he could have said what type of pork it was, where it came from, what else the filling consisted of, etc.  But no.  He had better things to do, I guess.  As the evening unravelled, we found that he was wholly unable to communicate with us (due to his habit of eating his words), was cold, utterly lacking any passion, un-interactive (a new word?), and seemed completely disinterested in what he was doing (he looked down at his watch more than once throughout the evening).  In the end, we decided either he had become so fed up with his current role that he just didn’t give two hoots anymore, or that he just doesn’t know how to or want to communicate with his customers.  It was strange to note that with the rest of the staff, he seemed to be quite smiley and was cracking a number of inside jokes with them behind the scenes.

But the worst part of the whole evening had to be the cheese course.  We got very excited by the cheese cart, which had been rolled out to a table next to ours near the end of our meal.  It looked truly divine and was the largest assortment I have seen at a restaurant in London for sure.  When it was our turn, Prince Charming rolled the table closer to us.  He stood there, said nothing and just waited for us to make our selection (luckily each cheese had a white label sticking out of it).  We didn’t know how many we could choose, and I certainly didn’t know what more than half of them were.  He made us feel as if we were stupid and made no offer to help us choose or explain what any of the cheeses were.  He just kept standing there.  He also made us feel impatient, as if we were wasting his time by not knowing which ones to choose (as if he were thinking, “oh, I can’t deal with these uneducated diners”) – it all came across as condescending and rude.

‘Food Exceptionnel’?

Well, now that’s out of my system, I expect you may actually be interested in hearing something about the food…

But before that (haha! – you thought you had finally gotten there, but no…), I would like to make a general comment on the wine that accompanied the ‘Menu Exceptionnel’.  The pairing was truly phenomenal.  The quality of each individual wine was excellent in its own right, and the combinations vacillated from being traditional to more forward-thinking, which challenged and educated the palette and greatly enhanced to overall experience.  There was not a wrong step taken in this area.  So, whoever is responsible for this should take real pride because each one was a perfect complement to its respective dish and added a much appreciated dimension to the meal.

For those of you that are still with me, some comments on the food:

  • Course 1: Rare Seared Salmon with Paprika, Asparagus and Truffle Dressing.  I am not the greatest fan of salmon in the world.  I think this stems from the fact that where I grew up we had some of the best salmon in the world and I probably ate too much of it while I was young and eventually got sick of it.  The seared salmon itself was very nice, but for me didn’t offer anything extra, just a nice peace of salmon that had been seared well.  The asparagus was fresh and sweet and the truffle dressing certainly complemented the asparagus but I’m not sure how well it accentuated or brought out the flavour of the salmon.  Over all a decent dish but nothing wowed me.  6/10.  The accompanying Pouilly Fuissé which I mentioned above was stellar and I thoroughly enjoyed it with the salmon – the perfect partner.  9/10.
  • Course 2: Cheese Soufflé Cooked on Double Cream.  This was the showstopper of the evening. Perfection on a plate.  The delicate lightness of the soufflé was perfectly balanced by the rich double-cream sauce and the addition of a layer of slightly browned cheddar cheese on top added a tangy punch to the dish which made it stand out.  Without hesitation, 10/10.  They served a vintage champagne with the soufflé which I found to be an interesting choice.  It was a 1998 Champagne Martel Cuvée Victoire “Fût de Chêne”, and it was one of the nicest champagnes I have had.  It had the amazing aroma of toffee on the nose, and its depth and complexity of flavour (it was not a typically light and highly fizzy champagne) worked wonders with the richness of the cheese and cream.  10/10.
  • Course 3: Scallop Baked in the Shell, Flavoured with Ginger.  This dish unfortunately didn’t stack up.  The scallops were very bland, and appeared not to have been seasoned.  The sauce was certainly not very gingery, and even if it was supposed to be a subtle ginger flavor, it didn’t achieve that.  Strangely enough, the best part of the dish came from the shell.  Not the shell itself (!), but the shell had been sealed by placing a thin layer of pastry (pate feuilletée) around the crack of the shell, and this was baked beautifully and tasted just like a good pastry.  We gorged ourselves on that. 5/10.  The matching wine was a 2005 Vondeling Babiana Noctiflora (that’s a mouthful, eh?) from Paarl, South Africa.  It was a mix of Chenin Blanc (the dominant grape), Viognier and Chardonnay, and was definitely more Chenin than anything else.  It was a nice accompaniment to the scallops as it worked with the fishy flavor and cut through the cream.  Successful but nothing amazing.  7/10.
  • Course 4: Seared Sea Bass on a Soft Polenta, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, Olive and Garlic Croutons.  This was a well prepared and nicely presented plate of food.  The sea bass was cooked perfectly and was well seasoned, and the ‘croutons’ were actually two thin rectangular crispy sticks of bread with sort of a tapenade of olives with some garlic – they were great.  The main thing that let the dish down was the fact that the polenta was just too salty (especially when it combined with the olive-covered croutons), and therefore the dish left a very salty taste in the mouth.  6/10.  The wine for this course was the 2007 Domaine Gavoty Rosé “Cuvée Clarendon” (Provence).  It was a fresh and tart rosé which went well with this dish, which had a strong Provencale influence to it.  8/10.
  • Course 5: Hot Duck Foie Gras and Crispy Duck Pancake Flavored with Cinnamon.  This was a very Chinese-inspired dish, which seemed at odds with the whole ethos of classical French cuisine.  The foie gras was good and was seared properly, but the accompanying duck ‘pancake’ was really more of Cantonese style duck recipe with a deep friend pancake housing the shredded duck.  I didn’t mind it too much, although it was overly salty (two courses in a row!), and didn’t particularly well complement the soft foie gras.  My wife felt that it really didn’t work and that the restaurant was compromising its classical heritage for the sake of simply doing something new.  All things considered, I would give it 6/10.  Luckily, the accompanying Domaine de la Tour Vielle, Banyuls Reserva was a truly excellent wine.  Tons of sweet raisin, a very clear and precise sweetness with a little acidity to push back on it.  The texture of the wine in the mouth was like cold  water drunk directly from a spring.  It really went well with the sweetness and saltiness of the duck and the richness of the foie gras.  10/10.
  • Course 6: Roasted Rack of Lamb, Courgette Flower Fritter and Tarragon Scented Jus.  This course didn’t do much for me.  The lamb was cooked well, just pink in the middle, but pretty blandly seasoned.  The accompanying green broad beans were flavourful, as was the jus, and the fritter was just as it should have been.  But with the blandness of the lamb and the lack of any other dominant flavours, it just lacked a wow factor.  6/10.  With the lamb came a 2000 Château du Paradis, Grand Cru (St. Emilion).  I do not yet have enough understanding or appreciation of fine Bordeaux’s at this stage in my wine life, and unfortunately I didn’t really like this line too much, and didn’t feel it added much to the lamb.  It seemed still too young to drink, very tight and withdrawn.  Maybe this is because I have more experience with new world wines, which tend to be more open and immediately satisfying, but to me it felt like the wine was saying, “you don’t deserve to understand me yet!”  So I will take the wine’s advice and not offer a numerical rating🙂.
  • Course 7: Selection of French and British Farmhouse Cheeses. You can refer to the earlier part of this review for more about the way the cheese course was served (very badly!), but the cheese on offer was amazing in terms of its variety.  The ones we choose were good, some French and some British.   The accompanying wine was a 2005 Château Cabezac “Belvèze” (Minervois) from the Languedoc region, which had a lot of blackberry on the nose, and was very full, round and fat in the mouth.  7/10.
  • Course 8: Shortbread Biscuits with Strawberries, Banana and Rum Ice Cream.  The dessert was satisfying, but nothing to write home about.  The strawberries were sweet and the best part of it was the banana and rum ice cream, which tasted just like you would hope.  It was accompanied by a 2004 Vin de Constance (Constantia, South Africa), which is probably the most famous of South African sweet wines.  I have had other vintages that I did not think lived up to the hype that this wine has, but the 2004 definitely hit the mark.  It was a perfectly balanced golden sweet wine with a real kick of acidity to keep the tropical sweetness in check; it went down a treat with the biscuit and strawberries.  10/10.

Le Verdict

Unfortunately, Le Gavroche did not live up to the high expectations I had for the restaurant.  The service for a restaurant of this calibre was simply unacceptable and should be rectified swiftly.  That left the food a lot of work to do, and it generally failed to wow us with the exception of a few specific elements (as noted above, the Soufflé Suissesse was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while).  The wine pairing, however, was a triumph and tremendously enhanced the enjoyment of the evening.  Overall, I do not think that the dinner offered value for money.  I have had better tasting menus for much less than £95/person at other fine restaurants both within the UK and abroad, and it seems that Le Gavroche’s customers are paying a steep premium for the restaurant’s reputation.  I sincerely hope that our experience was an isolated one – maybe the kitchen had an off-night – and that they can make Le Gavroche into what it surely must have been in the past: a place where everything is just right.  But there is a lot of work to based on what we experienced.

Rating

Ambience: 6/10

Service: 3/10

Food: 6/10

Wine List: 8/10

Wine Selected: 9/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only dined at Le Gavroche once*

Le Gavroche on Urbanspoon

23 thoughts on “Le Gavroche – Unfortunately a Very Mixed Bag

  1. Hi,

    Just dropping by – was the head waiter Silvano Giraldin by any chance? This is not the first time I have heard complaints about poor service at LG, yet when I went, I would rate the service as amongst the best I have experienced. Mind you, the sommelier serving me couldn’t speak a word of English which could have been a huge problem for many people.
    You should definitely forward your review to LG as they do take feedback seriously.

    p/s Little known fact but most restaurants will allow you to substitute dishes on the tasting menu with ones on the ALC. Might involve a small supplement charge, but its better than eating something you are not going to enjoy. Alternatively, you can always ask if they are willing to do dishes in demi-portions.

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for stopping by my blog! It is always nice to get comments from new readers. It was not Silvano, as I believe he is no longer actually on the floor but has a management position at the restaurant. Understanding French accents isn’t a problem for me (my wife is French), but it was very hard to understand what he, and the sommelier, were saying.

      Will take your suggestion next time re: asking for substitutes / demi-portions on tasting menus.

      Thanks again for your visit. I have been following your blog for a while now and it is great.

      LF

  2. I can handle average food with good service..but I can’t handle poor service with even good food….sorry you had such service at a place that should have provided so much better.

  3. LF – a friend of mind was treated quite poorly first time around (funnily enough she was American too). She did make a complain and when she returned a year later she had magnificent service.

    Banquet manager – funny you say that because I have had the best and the worst service in French restaurants. I do agree that the older generation/ old school type French restaurants are generally stiff, stuck-up etc. while the new generation have grasped on to the concept of customer satisfaction. I think this point is best highlighted by the new-school vs. old-school sommeliers.

  4. oh dear, this sounds horrendous, I’ve always wondered about gavroche, but after reading this, I’m not keen on going at all.

    The snobbery they showed you on the cheese course is disgraceful and distasteful!A good waiter should explain and guide the diner as to what is good and what to have, there are a rich selection of cheeses and different maturation levels, only if one is a cheese monger would he know how to handpick a selection, let alone diners who are there to be served.

    I had a similar snobbish experience at Bentleys and I think sometimes that some of these restaurants need to learn how to respect diners. The class divide thing is pretentious and something which I am completely against.

    • Hi Kang, thanks for your comment. I hope this was an isolated incident for LG. To be fair, I don’t think it was a class divide thing; it just seemed like this guy in particular was quite cold, dispassionate and not interested at all in his guests (or at least us!). Everyone else we met was fairly pleasant.

  5. Pingback: The Ledbury: Artistic Flare, Good Ingredients & Great Atmosphere – But I am Left Wanting More « Laissez Fare: Adventures in Food, Wine & Travel

  6. I was just about to write up my recent visit to Le Gavroche then read your review and thought: you’ve beat me to it!

    My recent experience wasn’t quite as disappointing as yours, but I concur with a lot of the points you make, especially about the cheese.

    When i’ve had cheese at Gidleigh Park and the Waterside Inn, it’s been a real pleasure and treat. The waiters have talked you through the different cheeses, asked you what you like and tempted me to try something a bit different.

    This just didn’t happen at Le Gavroche and the guy doing it just seemed a bit bored – we wondered if it was the normal persons night off?

    Again with the service, it was generally ok, but there were small deficiencies and when you’re paying over £300 for two you expect better.

    For example, our starter dishes were left on our table for 10 minutes when we finished, we had to ask for more drinks and the pre-dessert was left standing and was brought with our actual desserts (they thought we wouldn’t notice).

    The food was very good, but not truly outstanding and not one element of the whole experience (food, service, ambience, extras) was the best I’ve ever had.

    Like you, I thought the wine was superb and I had a fantastic half bottle of Bordeaux that was probably the highlight of the evening.

    Glad it wasn’t just me – I’ve seen lots of other reviews that adore the place, but for me you can clearly see why Restaurant Gordon Ramsay has 3 stars and they only have 2.

    • Hi Craig,

      Many thanks for your comment. It is heartening to see I am not the only person in London who doesn’t think Le Gavroche is infallible!🙂

      I have to say, we have only dined there once, but I would concur with what you said in that not one element of the meal stood out as being truly exceptional (except for maybe the soufflé, which was wonderful, but it was only one of many courses). I think the attitude of the staff was what really put me off the place, which is not something you should have happen at any nice restaurant, let alone one that’s had 2 Michelin stars for so long…

      All the best,

      LF

      PS – it sounds like you had a very good meal(s) at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – what would be your quick summary, and do you think it is a must-go? Thanks again.

  7. Wish i’d gone for the souffle now!🙂

    The main dishes weren’t particularly better at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (apart from the assiette for dessert which was amazing), it was just the extra touches that made it truly memorable for me.

    The canapes and amuse bouches were fantastic. The service outstanding from start to finish: the staff were chatty and friendly, as well as being ultra attentive.
    We were invited to go and view the kitchen (didn’t have to ask) and got to speak to the Head Chef for 5 minutes, which was fascinating.

    At every part of the experience you were just made to feel special.

    Some people might sniff their nose up a bit and say Le Gavroche is a ‘proper’ restaurant’ and Gordon Ramsay is a food tourist place, but given the choice I know where I would go back to.

    However, it’s a few years since i’ve been and I know that a lot of the pro-critics seem to think it should lose its third star.

    • Very interesting – many thanks for your thoughts. I think I’ll still give it a go before heading off to the other side of the pond! All the best, LF.

  8. Pingback: Great Queen Street – Long Live the Queen « Laissez Fare: Food, Wine & Travel Adventures

  9. Pingback: Launceston Place – A Great Meal Ambushed by Too Many Buts « Laissez Fare: Food, Wine & Travel Adventures

  10. Pingback: Le Gavroche and Mansons « Eats, treats, and leaves

  11. Pingback: Lanka – The Perfect Little Place in Primrose Hill « Laissez Fare: Food, Wine & Travel Adventures

  12. Pingback: My 7 Links | Laissez Fare

  13. I dined at Le Gavroche just this evening and I must comment that the service of the cheese course was much better than what it sounds like you experienced.
    We were talked through and the waitress was friendly and not stuck up in the slightest. She still did not make clear exactly how many cheeses we were allowed, but it quickly became clear that the number is four!
    I feel that Le Gavroche is a well balanced restaurant which may occasionally fall short due to its perfect reputation and also its own fussy desperation to cling onto that ‘old-school’ style of service.

    P.S. Totally agree with you on the wine complimenting each course! However I wish we had a champagne with our Cheese Soufflé, instead we had an overly sweet sherry which was a bit too much with such a massively rich and creamy course.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment. This meal was a very long time ago – and was hopefully just a one-off bad experience. I’m glad to hear you had a much better meal overall.

      Best regards.

  14. Why an earth would a metre d or a waitress have to tell their name like at some Wimpy or Dominos Pizza?
    The food was exceptionally good, each bit I put into my mouth was perfect. The service was polite, no rush at all, friendly but not “into your face”.

    Definitely the best meal and best experiense I have ever had in a restaurant.

    • Agree with you. What I meant by the comment was that he was extremely brusk, verging on rude. He could have said “good evening” or “have you had a chance to decide yet” or something to that effect. But he just said “what do you want?” Speaking of Dominos or Wimpy … that was about the level of service being offered during this initial exchange. I am glad you had an amazing meal. We had a few excellent courses (and great wines), but it was overall a big letdown for us. But this was only one meal, and every restaurant has its off days. Guess we were just unlucky.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s