SHE SERVES THE SMOOTH RETSINA
SHE KEEPS ME SAFE AND WARM
What do I know about Cheltenham ? It’s a spa town, it’s got a race course
and a college for ladies, I once helped someone move there and spent most of a wet Saturday driving around the one way system looking for somewhere to park, er...that’s it.
I’d been invited to accompany a couple of friends to the spa town with the promise that our destination was somewhere where the food “really is your sort of food”. They know me so well. Le Champignon Sauvage (known locally as the Champion Sausage) is a Michelin ** restaurant run by David Everitt-Matthias, the chef, and his wife Helen, who seemed to take cares of everything else. They've been there about eighteen years and I learned that in that time if the chef was not in the kitchen then there would be no service, which is very refreshing in these days of the overexposed TV chef spending little time at their eponymous restaurants (you know who you are).
We arrived after a harmless journey (one unscheduled stop, well there had to be, this is BR, sorry, First Great Western) and a short taxi ride. After the horrors of Odette’s the interior of LCS was a welcome relief: warm, relaxing with some interesting pictures and objets d’art.
The first thing to hit me was the smell of freshly baked gougeres a basket
of which quickly appeared and just as quickly disappeared together with a few glasses of champagne. Some excellent warm bread followed. I was particularly keen on the bacon and shallot which was a bit of a meal in itself. I was warned off having more by my friends as they knew what was coming. I’m glad I listened to them.
What a meal. There was a little starter of fried sand eels (don’t see those too often) in a pungent smoked eel brandade with horseradish cream; a plump seared scallop with cauliflower puree, wood sorrel and a perfumed cumin foam; a dense meaty cube of veal breast paired with langoustine; a fillet of perfectly cooked Zander sitting on sliced duck hearts of exquisite tenderness with an intense pumpkin puree, bay boletus and chestnuts (Autumn on a plate); a cannelloni of kid with a slice of duck tongue and ethereally light goats curd.
The apogee was reached with a dish obviously designed for the Pig lovers among us (double detention for anyone sniggering) which was truly a plate to sort the men from the boys (and the women from the girls). A porcine feast of the lightest Black pudding studded with sweetbreads combined with an andouillette (which had just the right whiff of the farmyard without being too ahem...intestinal) and a rich and gloriously sticky pigs trotter stuffed with snails and nettles. The Chef’s Chef indeed.
I’m not a huge dessert fan but the same care and skill which had gone into the previous dishes was evident in desserts of caramelised mango with apple and rowan berry sorbet and tapioca (now I haven’t seen that for a very long time and then it was called frogspawn and came with something we called monkey blood) and a warm bitter chocolate and black olive tart with a scoop of clean-tasting fennel ice cream.
We moved into the bar area for our coffees and to scoff down some good petit fours.
I was pretty full by then but I managed, somehow (all for you dear reader, all for you). We had an interesting chat with the chef until all too soon we had to go and catch our train home.
What impressed me overall was I could taste every element in a dish. There was
nothing extraneous. The flavours were very apparent without being overwhelming (if that makes any sense). The combinations also worked very well. Such was the generosity of the whole operation that in the end I was full, but in the sense of being completely satisfied as oppose to feeling bloated. I must also mention the service from Helen and the young waiting staff which was friendly, professional and unobtrusive. Perfect really. Le Champignon Sauvage is just one of those places where the time just whizzes by - I think we were there for about four hours - and you don’t really want to leave.
What do I know about Cheltenham ? I know it’s home to a rather good restaurant called Le Champignon Sauvage. Now if we could just get the team to come to London…