Sunday, 17 April 2011

Gauthier Soho

Gauthier Soho is a curious place. Set in a four-storey Georgian townhouse, admittance is granted through ringing a doorbell, at which point you are ushered either into a small, ground floor dining room, or up a narrow, thickly-carpeted staircase, as I was, to an intimate, sash-windowed space that feels like you've invaded a well-to-do, if aesthetically unadventurous, front room.

As tasteful as the white and beige colour scheme is, there is something of the dentist's waiting room about it – a location no diner wants to be reminded of while they tuck into their scallops. Matching the white walls in austerity are the acoustics. On my visit, I dined with my young cousin, who, fresh from a year-and-a-half abroad, enlivened the interiors with her bronzed hue and caused the sprinkling of diners populating the room to look on disapprovingly on hearing her animated anecdotes about motorbike rides across India and killing kangaroos in the outback. Such is the layout at Gauthier, that anything more than a whisper seems like a shout. Noticing this, we lowered our tones.

Interiors aside, there is much to recommend at Gauthier, which was awarded its first Michelin star in January. After a 12-year stint at renowned Pimlico restaurant Roussillon, where he picked up a Michelin star along the way, Alexis Gauthier set up shop last summer in the Romilly Street townhouse, formerly home to Richard Corrigan's Lindsay House. The upstairs downstairs atmosphere is enhanced by the nimble-limbed young waiters, who scurry about, silver platters in hand, trying to transport dish after dish from the kitchen downstairs, up to the dining room in an almost comedic display of adroitness. I'm sure they could balance the plates on their heads if the situation required it.

Our five hour feast – the longest dinner I've ever had, began on a high note with ice-cold Gosset Champagne and a dizzying array of bread, highlights of which included salty bacon and spicy chorizo rolls served warm, with a fluffy interior. This is the second restaurant in a row where the bread has been a talking point, having recently enjoyed the wondrous, anise-flecked Grissini sticks at Tempo in Mayfair. Mon cousine and I opted for the tasting menu, reasonably priced at £68 for eight courses. After our bouches were amused with iced salmon eggs, beetroot tartlets and Parmesan twirls, the meal began in earnest with a terracotta-hued langoustine velouté, exotified by the addition of coconut and mango, which reminded my cousin of her time in Thailand.

Before continuing, mention must be made of the wine list, or tome as more appropriately describes it, which charmingly begins with 'Ode to Wine' by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Alexis cleverly brought Italian sommelier Roberto della Pietra with him from Roussillon to Gauthier, where he is doing a sterling job with the wines. A different wine was poured to match each dish, and with it, an impassioned explanation as to why said wine had been (seemingly painstakingly) selected. Our velouté, for example, was paired with Château Khoury Réve Blanc from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley – a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Torrontes, alive with grassy, green-fruited notes.

Dish two was silky scallops, lithe langoustine and a dollop of meaty bone marrow in a brown butter jus (pictured), served with asparagus – Gauthier is mad about vegetables, weaving them into his dishes wherever possible. Dish three stole the show: perfectly al dente black truffle risotto in a pleasingly rich brown butter jus, the risotto barely visible through the paper-thin truffle shavings that emitted glorious forest floor aromas. The truffle proved so strong, I could taste it in my mouth the next morning, serving as a ghostly reminder of our culinary epic. Nutty and full bodied, with a mineral core, the accompanying 2009 Minervois more than held its own against the dish.

Dish four: glazed monkfish tail with clams, mussels, and artichokes in a basil jus, having unfairly come after such greatness, proved unable to entice my tastebuds out of their truffle-induced slumber. The risotto should have come afterwards, overpowering anything other than red meat in its wake. Luckily, dish five was meat shaped: a melt-in-the-mouth fillet of Angus beef with morels and – you guessed it – spring vegetables, matched with Viña Casa Tamaya Carmenère Reverva 2009 from Chile's up-and-coming, cool climate Limari region – a fruit forward, unmistakably New World wine with attractive vegetal notes that mixed with juicy blackberry and black olive into a velveteen finish.

A curious pair of wines accompanied our trio of desserts: a 17% abv, marzipan-fuelled Floc de Gascogne Blanc, imported by Les Caves de Pyrène, which matched wonderfully well with my potent slither of Munster cheese, and the final flourish, Cristian Drouhin Pommeau de Normandie, made from unfermented apple must and Calvados, that sang of baked apples and cinnamon, and won immediate Brownie points for its lustful label, featuring an Adam & Eve-like nude couple swirling round the bottle, intoxicated by the apples they've eaten. Much mention has already been made of Gauthier's signature dessert: Golden Louis XV, a Wagon Wheel-shaped chocolate and praline pud finished with a decorative swoosh of gold leaf. It was predictably decadent, but by this point I was too high on apples to fully appreciate it.

With lunch priced at two courses for £18, or three for £25 (without wine), Gauthier Soho offers remarkable value for its Michelin-starred status. The wines are thoughtfully matched, and the menu has much to entice and delight, I only wish the décor was less bright, less white, less not quite right. If Gauthier can translate the soulful character of its food and wine into its surroundings, then the restaurant will shine as bright as its new star.

Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AF
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 3111

1 comment:

  1. Oh, God, I couldn't wait to get out of this one. Don't see the need for it. Frigid service, cold food, confused wines by the glass, silly entrance... Glad you found some mirth in it though!