Gauthier

It was going to be a hard act to follow last week’s Corner Room, but if anywhere could stand up to its brilliance, it would be Gauthier. If Michelin-pomp isn’t for you, it’s somewhere to avoid, but previously I’d found the converted West End townhouse to be a welcome indulgence, serving consistently high-quality French cuisine with finesse. Once a year, the restaurant serves a two-for-one tasting menu, “to experience the full creativity of Alexis and his team the way he would want you to, but for a very special price”, said their email. And £35 each is a very special price for eight courses. You’ve heard the old adage that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is? This was no exception.

With its doorbell, Gauthier still feels like a private house; the restaurant is split over three floors, with two main salons and a number of private rooms. It’s charming, but things can feel a little cramped as you squeeze past tray-bearers in the corridor and on the stairs. Decoration is tasteful, if a little bland. We began with canapés. Usually good here, these were tasteless, overly-chilled, and stale. Paying £10 for a gin and tonic, I’d expect some better nibbles. We chose the eight matching wines (£60/person) to go with our tasting menu. I rarely indulge in wine-pairings, but due to the excellent sommelier, Roberto della Pietra, if you’re going to go all out, this is place to do it. And so began our meal of three acts.

Act 1: Betrayal. I can see the idea behind pan fried duck foie gras with apricot & ginger marmalade and a Saint Mont 2009, Les Vignes Retrouvées. However, the end result was too sweet, almost dessert-like, and the foie gras was totally lost on me. A slightly drier wine may have helped. Scottish scallops with girolles, garlic & parsley came next with a suitable pairing of Chateau Haut Peyruget 2011, Vignobles Jolivet. Just the one scallop (ahem!) was cooked to an ideal milky translucency, but an abundance of garlic and (I thought) cumin ruined it. Such a simple dish to get wrong. The Summer Truffle Risotto could have been great: rich, creamy, and perfectly cooked grains, but where was the truffle? Spying their a la carte menu, I saw Summer Ceps Risotto, which we had evidently received. Either an honest mistake, or some cunning deception, I’m not sure. Whatever it was, I knew the villain in this plot.

Act 2: Respite. Things improved with the thoughtful combination of sea bass & baby squid with courgette tempura, and the lightly battered vegetable with black ink & fish sauce brought an interesting Asian element to the dish. The only slight oddity was the wine, but I suppose Roberto had cheekily wanted to put a rosé on the list. A better choice was the perfumed Minervois Petit Arthur 2008 with the soft piglet belly, glazed baby carrot and leek & cherry jam, a dreamy pork jus holding it together. Meat and two veg this was not. Well, it was, but so much more. Feeling slightly let down by the excellent, but small portion of 22 month aged Comté and pepper relish, we decided to enjoy cheese as God intended. From the trolley. I can’t recall what we chose, but it was certainly worth the supplement (£8).

Act 3: Endurance. Desserts are not all they’re cracked up: fresh raspberry with soft blanc manger and crispy milk was uninteresting and one-dimensional – a palate cleanser of sorts, I suppose. And the famed Louis XV dark chocolate praline, adored all over the blogosphere as ‘the best chocolate dessert out there’, was nothing special. It looked pretty with its gold-leaf and cocoa shine, but after eight courses and feeling full it was too rich to be appreciated. It’s sweet red pairing, Banyuls Rimage Rouge 2008, was another misjudged choice for me. So as the curtain fell, our bill came to £262. We did not applaud. Service tries to be as charming as possible, but came across overly-rehearsed and somewhat insincere. I’m guessing the stars of the show – Alexis and Roberto – were absent; instead we had to put up with understudies who have some way to go in learning their lines.

Usually outstanding, this was a weak performance. Take it from me, there’s no such thing as a free lunch…nor a half-price tasting menu.

Addendum: I had dinner here with three friends on 22nd September 2012 in the intimate, four seat wine room. A new menu, fantastic wine, and some incredibly attentive service meant that, for me, Gauthier was back on its old form. As previously noted, the experience above seems to have been a blip. I would still thoroughly recommend it.

Gauthier, Romilly Street, Soho

17th August 2012, £262 for two (with service)

Food: 6 (8), Service: 5 (8), Ambience: 7 (8)

http://gauthiersoho.co.uk/

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9 comments

  1. Francesca Baker

    An informative review. I will definately visit your site again to help me decide where i should go next for a great meal. x

  2. Thin Mike

    I was at Gauthier for lunch the week before you and had a much better experience. The £35 tasting menu is an extraordinary bargain – in fact it is good value at full price for the quality and care – so like you we did the decent thing and topped it up by £60 to see what obscurities Roberto had dug out of his cellar.
    I am no fan of the physical approach to the restaurant. With its doorbell – a hangover from Lindsay House – it feels less like approaching a private house, more like approaching one of the “private houses” of Shepherd Market – two bells Suzi – or an obscure club. And when it is raining (as it was) you get wet waiting for the door to open! But apart from that I really wouldn’t describe the restaurant as Michelin pomp – it is smart but not overly so, relaxed, courteous rather than boisterous fun, a delightful ambience in the main upstairs room and in the private wine cellar room and the occupants of the neighbouring tables I chatted to were like us, ordinary but enthusiastic foodies out for a bargain treat – and not disappointed.
    Now the tasting menu, even for me, is a daft way to dine – it is much better to stick with their orthodox, wonderfully flexible (and I think very fairly priced) menu, with a couple of good bottles. The cooking is superb and interesting and you are not bombarded with a mishmash of contrasting flavours. But that is surely the point of a tasting menu – chaotic, exuberant virtuosic, and fun; a great way to spend an afternoon!
    Be fair on the wine match. The cooking is surely difficult to match, with a multitude of complex flavours – and with some dishes probably impossible to match (what would you put with fois gras, apricot, ginger and cumin?) So it seems to me that Roberto often tries to find an additional, often contrasting, flavour. It’s not orthodox matching, it doesn’t always work but it is great fun and always leads to conversation, both at the table and with the young sommeliers, just as it should. The wines arrive in good time before the dish so you can savour them beforehand. They are obliging about second helpings too – we drank all the lovely Minervois before the belly of pork arrived (it wasn’t that the kitchen was slow, we were just quick!), so we nearly had a matching issue! It’s important to keep up – otherwise you can get very muddled up.
    I hope Roberto is still the sommelier because he hasn’t been there for my last few visits and he is a real star, along with the cooking. If he is there, as they say don’t hire a dog and bark yourself – it’s his list, with plenty of obscurities, particularly from the southwest, often changing and he is scrupulously fair. At Roussillon one of the delights was that they were always happy informally to get a case in for you of whatever obscure southern French wine they had delighted you with (at a bargain price too!); now they have formalised the process. Last time he plucked a bottle out for me at Gauthier I accused it of being bland; another, different bottle (and definitely not bland) was promptly produced at their expense and he led us in a comparative tasting of the two – you can see why I return!
    However the wine matching on the tasting menu had all the hall marks of Roberto – wacky and eclectic, flavours all over the place, bottles all new to this drinker. His contribution to a tasting menu of exuberant fun. But I agree with you about the rose – it struck me as tasteless!
    Now if you are going to drink gin before your meal I am not surprised they put your canapés in the freezer; serves you right. We had the gorgeous Gosset house champagne, and 3 room temperature canapés of exploding flavour. So there. This was a pleasant surprise – for years (and I think always at Roussillon) I recollect the amuse-bouche was a sort of bread stick with a small pot of acid mustard/carrot soup, a dish which followed to Gauthier. It was always curious to start with the low point of the meal – or have I got muddled up?
    You are wrong on Act 1 – the fois gras combination was stunning; a glorious selection of contrasting flavours, with the apricot and ginger (marmalade sharp rather than sweet) cutting through the fat, and the cumin crisp enhancing all the flavours. I don’t recall a better way of presenting it. Inspired. So there! You are wrong on the scallop too – you don’t go to Gauthier for a plain boiled scallop – try a posh chippy. But normally I find scallop pretty tasteless – this was lifted by the garlic, parsley and girolles, a fascinating and highly successful combination. Our truffle risotto had truffle in it too; to be honest I would have preferred summer ceps risotto if offered it since truffles make me sneeze. I sneezed. But it was very good.
    Act 2 – I agree! Also you are quite right about the cheese – I have no idea why the more posh the restaurant the more parsimonious the helping of cheese. The shaving of lovely Comte was accompanied by a funny sludge that did nothing for it (the only thing left on the plate that day apart from cutlery); so having found the cheese and eaten it in one swallow we upgraded to the trolley like you. However again the staff need prompting on the helpings. Cheese should be eaten in lumps not nanoparticles.
    I can’t comment on the puddings – after 7 of the 8 matching wines, champagne and second helpings, memories of that part of the meal are rather hazy.
    Certainly some of the younger staff could do with more support from a more experienced more relaxed Maitre d – perhaps Michael should now rejoin his former colleagues after the sad closure of Roussillon; but as they unwind (as they do when the longer established recognise you) and gain confidence they relax; they are all enthusiastic about what they are seeking to achieve. We were still eating through the shift change which was beautifully handled. There was no pressure to reclaim our table: and at 5pm we meandered over the road to the rather fine pub opposite since we were clearly not up to anything else for the rest of that day!
    So readers I would say go for it – don’t be put off by the Edge and Spoon experience! By the way M. Gauthier also cooks the finest vegetarian meal I have ever come across in London.

    • edgeandspoon

      Thanks for your long and detailed response, Thin Mike! Interesting to hear that we had such different experiences of Gauthier only a few days apart. I agree with you: the restaurant is fantastic, and there were lots of positive things that I wrote about my meal when I reviewed it. 99% of the time it’s brilliant. It’s just that the last time I went I was left disappointed with my experience. I suppose I feel that if you’re paying that sort of money (wherever you are), the whole dining event should be spot on! Interestingly, I chatted with some fellow diners – Gauthier regulars – who also felt that the experience on the night was not up to the usual high standard. Don’t think it was just me being pernickety…

      Has my negative experience meant that I won’t be returning? Certainly not! I’ll be back in two weeks, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy every minute of it. Even the nano particles of cheese. Will report back…

    • edgeandspoon

      It usually is fantastic, so don’t knock it. I just think ‘deals’ are always going to be a bit of a failure. Go for their lunch menu during the week and you’ll have a great time! Let me know how it goes

    • edgeandspoon

      Yes, having been a few times before, I was a bit surprised at how disappointing the experience was. I’m going back this weekend, however, so I’m expecting something better than last time!
      Corner Room is great isn’t it? I haven’t (yet) been to Viajante, but will try and go soon! It’s just about finding the money and the time!

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