All work and no play made Jack a dull boy, but at least Stephen King’s possessed protagonist got your blood pumping. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Le Gavroche. London’s most legendary French fine dining restaurant has got a bit of the Overlook Hotel about it. Not the maniacally scary side, but more The Gold Ballroom—a once buzzing but now vaguely musty space that exists on the memories of good times past.
Despite its glitzy location, the gold bell you ring to enter, and striking oil paintings of the esteemed Roux lineage in their chef whites on the walls, much of Le Gavroche manages to feel more like a business conference at a discount Marriott than a high-class Mayfair experience. The heavily maroon basement dining room is full of tables of red-nosed men with burgundy flowing through their veins and couples stiffly enjoying the unironically named ‘Menu Exceptionnel’. Excellent, ever present, and ever willing staff hover and glide around like spirits hoping to escape the grips of a malevolent soufflé suissesse, while diners talk—in stage whispers—about someone they know who ate here 20 years ago. Forget haute, this is haunted.
There’s something a little deathly about the food too, whether you’re getting the £185 seven-course tasting menu or not. The amuse-bouche is a sad show—a mini smoked salmon tart of Arctic temperature recalls cling film of buffets years gone by—while the famous soufflé suissesse is a marvellous, but quickly sickeningly rich, egg white, gruyère, and double cream creation. A £50 plate of roast venison with roscoff onion and a beetroot jus is deeply flavoured, earthy, and executed perfectly. But even that and the appearance of Michel Roux Jr—a man who had to pretend to find Gregg Wallace funny for several years—doing the rounds in the dining room can’t save this meal. He’ll say hello, sign a menu, smile at all the right times and you, in turn, will pay your respects. As far as wakes go it’s all distinctly fine, if wincingly expensive.
One thing you do have to do with Le Gavroche is respect it. It’s a restaurant that changed the face of food in London, and it does have two of those stars. But there is the overwhelming feeling that its glitz rubbed off a while ago. Once upon a time this was a restaurant to be at but, these days, it’s more of a remembrance.
Le Gavroche is famed for its soufflés both savoury and sweet. The cheese soufflé is a wonderful creation—all double cream, gruyère, and a cloud-like orb of egg white—but if you’re ordering à la carte, you probably don’t need one to yourself. Unless it’s the only thing you’re planning to eat.
Langoustine Grillée, Gelée de Crustacés et Herbes de la Mer
When some people say they don’t like fiddly food, stuff served with tweezers, and unidentifiable gels and foams, this is more than likely what they’re talking about. The grilled langoustine is delicious, but the shellfish jelly is too chilled to have any kind of impactful flavour. The radish and the sea herbs are pleasant enough, but it’s underwhelming as a whole.
Chevreuil Rôti, Betteraves, Oignon Rouge et Jus de Nèfles
It’s hard to justify a £50 plate of food, but this roast venison is exceptionally cooked. The roscoff onion—perfectly blackened and caramelised with delicate, mini deep-fried onion rings on top—and the beetroot sauce are lovely sweet pairings to the rich, meltingly good venison, and the finger-licking jus served alongside it. It’s worth saving bread for this sauce.
Tropézienne aux Poires, Vanille et Caramel
As far as brioche filled with cream and spheres of caramelised pear goes, this is a good one. Caramel sauce on the side: very nice. The kind of thing you’ve more than likely eaten at Percy Ingle back in the day, albeit much less delicate-looking.