With my last birthday ten days ago, I saw the passing of another decade. Those ‘0’ birthdays get a little more difficult as the years go by, even though I’ve never been one to worry about my age. However, the last ten days have seen such a rush of kindness and generosity from family and friends that I guess I have to say it was worth turning that latest zero!! When Annie asked if I’d like her and Jerry to take me to Le Gavroche for lunch as my birthday treat, I immediately said, Yes please!!! I’d never been to this 2-Michelin starred restaurant run by top chef Michel Roux Jr. and going there would be a special treat indeed.
Le Gavroche – meaning urchin; named after a character from Les Miserables – first opened its doors in Lower Sloane Street in 1967. Run by Michel Jr.’s father, Albert, and uncle, Michel, it was first restaurant outside France selling French food of this fine quality and soon gained an exceptional reputation. In time Michel Sr. moved to Bray in Berkshire to open the equally acclaimed Waterside Inn while Albert stayed on at Le Gavroche. In 1981 the restaurant moved to its present site in Mayfair, in Upper Brook Street, and Michel Jr. took over the helm in 1991.
I walked up Park Lane from the tube station in the sun, and turned into Upper Brook Street and found No.43. After handing over my coat I was shown to the bar where Annie and Jerry were already waiting for me.
Soon a lovely glass of champagne was before me and they brought us a plate of decidedly posh nibbles: some delicious little egg and duck tarts and gravadlax on bread. As we ate and drank we looked at the menus. There was a choice of three starters and three main course dishes on the lunch menu. We all thought we could have chosen any of them. As it turned out we each chose a different one of the mains; Annie and I had the same starter. Wine was discussed. A half bottle of wine each was included in the lunch menu. A decision was made. A half bottle of French chardonnay to begin and a full bottle of Bordeaux red to follow. With food ordered, we chatted for a while and it wasn’t too long before we were told our meal was ready and shown to the dining room downstairs in a basement area. It was busy and a bit bigger than I’d imagined from photos I’d seen; quite formal but very comfortable. Bread – lovely fresh little baguettes and rolls – came with either salted or unsalted butter to choose from. Our white wine arrived and I was nominated to taste it. The aroma was rich and it tasted delicious. Then came the amuse bouche: a gorgeous little slice of foie gras parfait.
It was so light and delicious. I love foie gras. I know it’s not considered politically correct by everyone these days to eat it but for me it’s just sublime. Sorry geese! Annie and I had Veloute de Coquillage au Champagne for our starter.
This was a light creamy soup with a mixture of lovely shellfish at the bottom: mussels, cockles and other things. Could we taste the champagne? Jerry asked. Not exactly, but there was that champagne slightly airy lightness to the dish, the soup had a slight froth on top and it was very good; delicious. Jerry meanwhile had chosen Filet d’Omble Grille Asperges et Quinoa.
Omble is a type of trout and Jerry said it was delicious. For our main courses Jerry again went with fish and chose Filet de Dorade, Chorizo et Calamars, Sauce aux Poivrons Rouges. (At the time of choice in my head I went through choosing each one and kept changing my mind!)
This looked splendid and an interesting mix of strong flavours that Jerry said worked well. (You’ll have to excuse the slightly angled photos of Annie and Jerry’s plates!) Annie had chosen Cuisse de Canard Confite et Sauce Aigre-Doux.
The sauce was a sweet-sour sauce we were told, and it’s a common accompaniment to duck. Annie said this was very good. I meanwhile had finally after all my indecision opted for Supreme de Pintade Fermiere, Sauce Cremeuse au Persil.
I partly chose this as I always think of guineafowl being very French. At least that’s where I’ve eaten it before. It’s quite a tricky bird to cook as it easily dries out. I felt pretty confident that wasn’t going to a problem at Le Gavroche – and it wasn’t. It was quite simply the best guineafowl I have ever enjoyed. It was perfectly cooked: so moist and tender. It was quite a revelation that guineafowl could be like this. And the sauce was a rich and delicious accompaniment. The broccoli that came with it looked so green and fresh I thought it might be undercooked. But it wasn’t. It had just that right amount of bite but was definitely cooked through. Perfect. The meal was going wonderfully. There was no sense of rush or hurry but the service was always impeccable without being over attentive (which I don’t like). When the main course dishes were taken away and the dessert menu brought, there were more difficult decisions to make. Which should we have? In the end, we each went a different way again. Annie on being told that the choice of Les Glaces et Sorbets Maison came on a trolley, and looking across to the trolley saw six big silver containers of ice cream, decided that was her choice.
But then of course she had to choose which she wanted! She went for a cherry sorbert, strawberry sorbet and a chocolate ice cream. I could see how smooth and creamy they were but Annie also offered me a taste. Yum! Jerry had equally challenging decisions to make with his choice of Plateau de Fromages.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such a large cheese trolly. It was magnificent and a wonderful smell of cheese drifted across the table. Jerry was not intimidated and soon a plate of his choices was before him.
He was also given another plate of melba toast made of walnut bread, a little cup of celery, a wonderful onion and cinnamon chutney (I had a taste!) and some quince jelly. I meanwhile had chosen Tarte au Citron et Coulis de Fruits Rouges. I remembered how the first ever Tarte Citron I made was the recipe from The Roux Brothers on Patisserie book – my bible of patisserie cooking. It was a present to me from my brothers in 1987 and is still used. Unfortunately I seemed to have missed photographing my own pudding! Which is a shame as it was very pretty. It came as an individual tart with an Italian meringue topping. The lemon in the custard had just the right tanginess to cut through the sweetness of the meringue and the pastry was light and melt-in-the-mouth. With the desserts came the plates of Petit Fours. We were slightly unsure whether to eat those with pudding or wait for coffee, but we started tucking in and so did both.
The petit fours were a wonderful display in long glass dishes that were hard to photograph – hence the not particularly good photo. But they were excellent! Crisp brandy snaps, rosemary flavoured macarons, rich chocolate cake, and physalis that had been coated in a very fine toffee/sugar syrup so that when you bit into the fruit it was a ‘toffee apple’ experience. It was a wonderful surprise and really delightful to eat. Coffee came … and coffee kept being topped up for as many times as we wanted. We talked on, relaxed and nicely full from our meal. The portions hadn’t looked particularly big but by the end you knew it had been just right. We’d arrived at 12.30. It was nearly 4 pm by the time we emerged (and not the last to leave the lunch tables!). It had been a wonderful meal: gorgeous food and a relaxed atmosphere. Jerry said I should have another birthday soon!