A little later than was originally planned - not unlike this post - four of us sat down to a most enjoyable lunch at Le Gavroche a couple of weeks back. I was being treated by Howard - a most generous birthday present - while Mark and Krista were more than willing to come along for the ride. None of us had been before; I suspect all of us will be going again.
Le Gavroche has a long and distinguished history and boasts a special place in London's restaurant scene. I think it was the first UK restaurant to be awarded one, two and then three Michelin stars (it now has "just" the two) and various members of the Roux family have been welcoming the well heeled for some four decades. The current incumbent, the affable Michel, was chatting away in the small ground floor bar when we arrived. Always good to know the boss is on hand.
Settled comfortably in the plush downstairs dining room, having established the gentleman were allowed to remove their jackets if they wished, we studied the various menu options. Le Gavroche maintains a policy rarely seen these days of only providing one menu with prices on it (Howard was the lucky recipient), which added an element of fun but is not, one presumes, universally popular. Inevitably, we opted for the menu exceptionnel, a nine-course tasting affair with a matching wine flight. You'll have to ask Howard how much it cost.
Among the highlights were medallions of seared tuna with spicy ginger and sesame dressing quirkily (and successfully) served with cherry beer, a delicious ensemble of asparagus, Parmesan, Pata Negra ham and truffle oil (with some dense Oloroso sherry) and some hot foie gras with a crispy pancake chock full of shredded duck (Tokay, this time). More conventional wine pairings came with some slightly more run-of-the-mill salmon and some correct but unspectacular lamb cutlets. An amazing cheese trolley followed, after which a couple of desserts were never going to have much impact.
The preceding, all-too-brief, paragraph barely begins to convey what a wonderfully pleasant afternoon this was, made all the better by service that can only be described as perfect. Other kitchens, for instance, would have been thrown out of kilter when a guest had to leave the table for a 15-minute phone call, holding up proceedings for a whole table at a crucially early stage of a carefully orchestrated meal; this one took it in its stride. The presence of two identical flame-haired waitresses may hint at the secret of such exemplary service: it's as if they've found the best staff in London... and cloned them.
In purely food terms none of us would have claimed this was the best meal we'd ever had. No complaints, you understand, but no jaw-droppingly memorable dishes either. In terms of the general dining experience, though - and frankly, that's what does it for me - it's hard to imagine better.
Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street W1K 7QR 020 7499 1826