|Autumn Truffle Risotto|
I questioned the value of a £50 set price lunch at another much lauded restaurant recently, and my dinner at Gauthier Soho a few days later showed it up for all that the set price menu can be. Gauthier's London Restaurant Festival 4 course menu, at £25, dazzled and delighted, leaving me hankering to go back for more.
In contrast, it has to be said that walking into Gauthier Soho feels like walking into your rich Aunty's house. Everything about the decor whispers "beige twin set", right down to the hushed tones and the table load of plummy accents with silver topped heads next door. Normally, it's exactly the sort of atmosphere that has me looking for the emergency exit. But, for some reason, I like Gauthier Soho immediately. Is it the smiley French waiters, the romantic lighting or is it the little round rose baths that remind me of the ones my Granny used to have? It's certainly not our slightly wonky table or the mirky water in the glass vase on the ledge behind us. (These seem to be odd oversights in an otherwise details focussed, highly polished operation.)
Fortunately, every bit of sensuous energy that the decor lacks has been sucked up greedily by the food.
Alexis Gauthier, the French chef with a Michelin star, has moved from Roussilon in Pimlico to a 4 storied Georgian townhouse in Soho, formerly the site of Richard Corrigan's Lindsay House. He may be posited in the middle of West End mayhem, but the man cooks like an angel.
|Amuse bouche - pumpkin & parmesan, cherry tomato |
with eel & a cheesy gougeres
|Amuse bouche with cod|
|Scallops with girolles & apple, and a crustacean dressing|
|Salsify with quail eggs & curry|
Because TPG takes first dibs on the scallops starter, I opt for the salsify and curry - purely out of a sense of adventure and a dedicated love of salsify. The salsify is braised and served with perfectly poached quail eggs, a light curry sauce and a terrific sweet mango chutney. I'm not sure how they pulled this dish off, but somehow it all works.
The Scottish scallops are creamy and gorgeous, but with a lovely crispiness on the outside. Served with girolles, parlsey cream, garlic and crunchy Granny Smith apples with a light crustacean dressing, this is another example of perfect execution from the kitchen.
Everyone gets the same second course, and it's one that you don't want to miss - Autumn truffle risotto with a chicken jus reduction, brown butter, and a glorious lathering of finely shaved black truffles. This dish is, quite simply, my idea of heaven. It's one Alexis Gauthier is known for since his time at Roussilon and the reasons for that are abundantly clear. There's a hugely satisfying bite in each grain of rice with the an ideal amount of soupy, creamy jus and butter. This is the clincher that would lure me back back to Gauthier Soho pronto, even if everything else had not been so seductive.
For our third plate, TPG and I both decide on the generous serve of Welsh lamb (both grilled fillet and a rich confit) with autumn vegetables from Secrett's farm, crispy-but-fluffy-in-all-the-right-places pommes dauphines, garlic and lamb jus. The grilled lamb is perfectly pink, and it's all as wonderful as it sounds.
|Pineapple with lychee sorbet|
|Apple & caramel crumble|
Another surprise plate in what is proving to be a bargainous £25 meal - a palate cleansing lychee sorbet with pineapple, is a spritely prelude to our desserts. TPG goes for the chef's signature Golden Louis XV - a gold leaf topped, chocolate encased bombshell of chocolate mousse, praline, hazelnut croquant and a sticky hazelnut meringue base. I often stuggle with chocolate desserts, finding them too rich - but I adored this one in all it's gooey gorgeousness.
Having assisted TPG with his chocolate bomb, I dive into my warm apple and caramel crumble chiboust with caramel ice cream. It's dainty, the pastry is heavenly and there's terrific combination of flavours at work.
We finish with decent coffee in pretty tea cups and scrumptious petit fours - including marshmallows with a subtle hint of Grand Marnier (marshmallows for grown ups).
And I haven't even mentioned the excellent bread basket (with chorizo, tomato and basil rolls, raison bread, baguettes and more), great quality butter from Normandy and free still and sparkling water included in our £25 menu (along with the extra 4 dishes we didn't expect on top of the 4 we bargained for).
Diners often use set price menus as a way to gauge (at a relatively low cost) how much they like what the restaurant has to offer - with a view to returning for more if they are suitably inspired. Unfortunately, all too often, prix fixe diners leave feeling like they've been given the cheap seats in all respects. This was anything but the case during my experience at Gauthier Soho.
We dined on a special £25 menu during London Restaurant Festival, but Gauthier Soho has a variety of 3, 4 and 5 course, tasting, lunch and pre-theatre menus running all year round. The current autumn menu sounds particularly inviting. Even when factoring in our drinks and service, our meal came to less than £50 per head. I consider it great value and excellent quality. This was a meal that has inspired this prix fixe diner to return.
Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, Soho, London, W1D 5AF (Tel: 020 7494 3111)
* * *
In what has been quite the fortnight for my digestive system, I also attended a fabulous wine dinner at the same restaurant the week before. Hosted by Chilean winery, Casillero Del Diablo and enthusiastic winemaker Marcelo Papa, I found myself as their guest for a 5 course meal with matching wines.
Casillero del Diablo, meaning "The Devil's Cellar" is one of the most successful Chilean wineries, having won over 80 awards, and aims to offer quality, good value wines at reasonable prices.
You have my thoughts on the food above - but, actually, I think Gauthier's standard menu was far better than some of the courses created for the wine dinner. However, the roasted Scottish scallops were (again) a highlight and worked wonderfully with my favourite wine of the evening - the Maycas de Limari Quebrada Seca 2007 (RRP £19.99). Aged for 10 months in French oak, it's dry, elegant and well balanced, and carries quite a body. Casillero del Diablo's Casablanca Chardonnay 2009 was slightly sharper with the creamy scallops, but well priced at RRP £7.49 for an easy drinking option.
The tart, yeasty bubblefest that is the Casillero del Diablo Brut Chardonnay 2008 (RRP £9.99) was a great start to the evening, and also appeared at the end of the night to accommpany to our praline souffle (although I didn't think the food was the best match here). The Casillero del Diablo Casblanca Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (RRP £7.49) is crispy, clean and fresh - it would perhaps work better with a natural oyster than the poached oyster with orange and leek marmalade paired with it for the evening.
The unusual, peppery Casillero de Diablo Carmenere 2009 (RRP £7.49) really comes to life upon pairing with the wild duck mallard rubbed with honey and light spices. The carmenere grape is one that fell out of favour in France, but is coming into its own with some Chilean love. However, as a standalone wine, I prefer the other pairing suggestion - the Maycas del Limari Reserva Especial Syrah 2008 which is soft and sweet with gentle tannins (and a good buy at RRP £12.99).
Finally, the big papa, Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada Cabernet Syrah 2007 (RRP £9.99) has lots of vanilla, tobacco and spice to show for its 14 months in oak. It was the better half of it's pairing with a cheesy Feuillete of Fourme D'Ambert and port reduction.
Casillero del Diablo wines can be purchased from Majestic, Waitrose, Morrisons and Tesco.com. Maycas del Limari stockists include Hailsham Cellars, Harrods and The Wine Society. Both labels present good value, readily available wines which held up as well to the posh notch of Gauthier Soho as they should to some robust home cooking.
Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, Soho, London, W1D 5AF (Tel: 020 7494 3111)
Greedy Diva attended the wine dinner as a guest of Casillero de Diablo Winery. The LRF dinner was paid for out of the Greedy Diva's own battered wallet.