GAUTHIER: SUPER SCRAN, SOHO
I don’t like Tasting Menus. They can be bloody hard work for a start - like enduring a long car journey when you're young, you find yourself thinking "are we there yet?". The saucing can be so rich that you're stuffed by the second course when you still have ten more to go. There's usually no choice so like a film soundtrack you have to endure a few clunkers before you get to the good stuff. And there's never enough of the good stuff. And so on and on - just like a tasting menu in fact.
So how come I've eaten three tasting menus in as many weeks? Well, the first two were in restaurants where there isn't any other choice. Both Viajante (in Bethnal Green) and Coi (in San Francisco) serve food that you're not going to come across too often and were both very enjoyable in their own way. More of Coi in a later post.
My third was at the newly opened Gauthier in Soho. Located in The Lindsay House (previous tenant: Richard Corrigan), the chef-patron is Alexis Gauthier who also runs Roussillon in Pimlico. The only times we've visited Roussillon we were pretty underwhelmed with the food so I wasn't particularly looking forward to my visit. I'd seen the menu ahead of my res and though it looked interesting but I still wasn't convinced.
The place has had a lick of paint since its previous occupant and the dining room (one of two) I was in was a light and pleasant space in contrast to the dark and gloomy rooms I’m usually to be found in. Quiet to begin with it soon filled up with Wine Merchants, PRs and diners who frequented Roussillon.
I thought my initial misgivings about the food were justified when I took a bite of one of my canapés, a chickpea "stick" which was a bit heavy and doughy - not great. I took a bite of another little amuse, this time one with a dice of langoustine and thereafter my meal followed an upward arc.
Although there’s a proper tasting menu I decided to construct my own from the list of small plates. These start off with the lighter, veggie-based dishes and get more protein orientated as you work through the list.
I always used to wonder how ex-restaurant critic Jonathon Meades managed to have a view on so many dishes on a restaurant’s menu. This was explained when a friend mentioned they’d seen him in a restaurant and basically he just ordered everything on the menu. Even when dining toute seul.
I was tempted to do the same to see how far I could get through a very attractive menu but I fancy living for a few more years yet before I have my Grand Bouffe moment so I contented myself with six ‘plats’ leaving some room for pud.
In the end it wasn’t a problem because M. Gauthier’s cooking has such a light touch that I never felt at all bloated during the meal. Even more surprising given the fact that like all French gaffs they’ll keep bringing you bread until you make like Mr Creosote. And very nice bread it was too with the bacon (mmmm...bacon) variety seeing most of the action.
As well as that light touch the cooking is also characterised by decent ingredients so a starter of Asparagus actually tasted of that vegetable.
Beautifully crimson Pigeon Breast was served slightly tiede and cleverly matched with Lobster. Wild Garlic in the risotto didn’t really come through and it was a tad salty but it was still a good risotto, the grains of rice retaining the right amount of ‘bite’ and the whole being soupy enough.
A small fillet of expertly cooked Red Mullet came with some Baby Squid and with their accompanying pieces of fennel and confited tomatoes was like a taste of the Meditteranean in minature.
The definition of the word savoury (or umami as is currently in vogue) would have a picture of my Veal Sweetbreads with Morels next to it. It delivered a huge hit of, well, whatever you want to cal it. But not so much that subtle favour of the golden glands was masked.
The Beef dish was the culinary climax. Combining the meat with olives is not an original idea but it’s still a good one and the chemistry between the rare beef, and the bitter elements of the olives and chard worked fantastically well. The marrow was the er, icing on the beef.
This could be a pretty full-on dish for some but I was still pondering upon another savoury dish after I’d finished it. So either portions were very small or I’m just a glutton. Ok, probably the latter.
After that little lot the desserts paled a little. I found my Duck Egg Soufflé a tad underpowered although this was probably not such a bad thing. I like my Ice Creams though, especially as they came on top of a refreshing pineapple granita.
After some PFs and a couple of Marshmallows staff had to administer emergency Espresso and Eaux-de-vie to stop me exploding. Thankfully, there were no waffr-thin mints.
Service at the start of the meal was a little hesitant but got better as the dining room filled up and they didn't miss a trick although I didn't get my little pre-dessert (boo). The meal was well paced too although inevitably, given the number of dishes I’d ordered, I was there for over three hours.
Wines by the glass were great value and actually appeared to have been chosen to complement the individual dishes. It isn’t always like this, you know.
Apparently there was a brief soft-opening for the resutaurant but if my visit was anything to go by M.Gauthier has hit the ground running. I don’t like Tasting Menus? I love them.