The British restaurant scene in the 1960s was not a thing of beauty. Today, London is a culinary destination boasting some of the finest restaurants in the world and a dizzying array of cuisines. Back then it was a far gloomier a parade of dismal greasy spoons and poorly executed classics. Until, in 1967, a French restaurant opened which has arguably done more to transform the way we view eating out in the UK than any other. Le Gavroche, and the Roux family behind it, have had an enormous effect – introducing London to high quality French food and nurturing a generation of brilliant chefs. Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing to name just three. I’ve been desperate to visit for years, especially since reading “A life in the kitchen”. Sadly, Michel Roux Jr success hasn’t made booking easy but I finally managed to snag a table for my birthday. Situated in a townhouse, just off Park Lane, on the outside it’s quiet and unassuming. The friendly staff took our bags and ushered us down to the dining room. It’s like stepping back in time – soft banquettes, crisp white linen, velvet curtains. Just magic. While we perused the menu we were offered two canapés – a crab salad tart and a pigeon roll. The crab was light and delicate, with wonderfully crisp pastry; the pigeon dark, gamey and thoroughly delicious. In their evening, their menu is split into an ‘a la carte’ and a ‘menu exceptionnel’ – an eight course tour de force. By the time you’ve paid for three courses, you may as well go for the tasting menu and by the time you’ve factored in a bottle of good wine you may as well go for the wine tasting too. Le Gavroche is not cheap – my logic was, if you’re only every going to go once, do it properly. Soufflé Suissesse Cheese Soufflé Cooked on Double Cream This is an institution – it’s been on the menu for decades and rightfully so. It’s light texture and rich cheesy sauce are a great combination and the perfect way to start a meal. Champagne G. H. Martel – “Cuvee Victoire” 2007 Starting a meal with champagne is always a good idea, and this was a wonderful example – light, fruity and with a lovely creamy note that echoed the cheese. Terrine Marbree de Foie Gras aux Epices Gelee au Madere et Croque aux Champignons Spice Crusted Foie Gras Terrine, Madeira Jelly and Mushroom Toast The foie gras was perfectly cooked, very rich and beautifully set off by the mushroom toast. The Madeira jelly was a nice acidic foil – though my dining partner found it a little strong. Vouvray “Demi Sec” 2009 Domaine due Clos Naudin – This was a delicate, slightly sweet wine, very reminiscent of some good Germans I’ve tried. The sweetness helped cut through the rich fatty liver without hiding any of the flavour. Gratin de Crabe au Persil et Piment d’Esplette Snow Crab in a Light Hollandaise Sauce Flavoured with Parsley and Basque Chilli In an enormous oyster shell, perched atop a little mound of rock salt, this was a little taste of heaven – sweet creamy crab, light delicate sauce and the gentle suggestion of peppery heat in the background. It’s got to be one of the most balanced dishes I’ve ever eaten. Puligny Montrachet 2008 Bourgogne – Another stunning white, slightly sharper and full of citrus fruits and pear – a great match of the sweet crab. Filet de Maigre Parfume au Ras-el-Hanout, Fenouil et Riz Rouge de Carmargue Stone Bass and Pastilla, Scented with Arabian Spices, Fennel, Red Rice and Meat Jus The fish was beautifully cooked – just opaque. The ras-el-hanout was delicately applied, never overpowering any of the other flavours. The pastilla added some lovely texture and the fennel, something I normally avoid, was tender and fragrant. Le Soula Blanc 2008 Vin de Pays de Cotes Catalanes – Roussilon – This was a much bolder white with a slightly woody, almost smokey hint – matching white wines to spices is really difficult and they did a marvellous job. Joue de Porc Braisee et Fumee, Cromesquis de Couennes Braised and Smoked Pork Cheek, Crispy Belly Ravioli, Red Cabbage Condiment This is pig at its best. The smoke was delicate and autumnal, the meat meltingly soft and the ravioli deliciously crisp. The red cabbage was a lovely touch – acid, sweet and smooth. Morgon “Cote du Py” 2011 Beaujolais – I don’t normally drink Beaujolais – it’s too light and sweet. This was an entirely different animal – full bodied and bursting with fruit. Easily my favourite wine of the evening! Supreme de Perdreau Rotie et Jus a L’Echalote Red Leg Partridge with a Brandy Shallot Jus and Wild Mushrooms I adore game and this was a masterclass. The meat was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. The jus was incredible – rich veal stock simmered with fried shallots and a healthy slug of brandy. Heaven. I could eat that sauce all day. Chateau Cabezac “Belveze” Grande Cuvee 2007 – Languedoc - This is my kind of red wine – big, strong and full of pepper. At six years old it had aged beautifully and had a silky smooth finish. Perfect with the partridge. Le Plateau de Fromages Affines Selection of French and British Farmhouse Cheese Their cheese trolley is quite a sight – provided by La Fromagerie it contains a dizzying array of French and British cheeses. We went for a very varied choice – erring on the strong and smelly side. The cheese was perfectly ripe, at a sensible temperature and served with great condiments. Lovely quince, crisp walnut bread slices and semi-dry grapes. Esprit de Chevalier 2007 – Pessac Lognan – Bordeaux – Bordeaux and cheese – wonderful. Rich, porty, with lots of cherry and leather – just make sure you ask for a top-up! Riz au Lait, Pralines et Poires Creamed Rice with Praline and Pears It has to be said, when I read the menu I was delighted – until I saw the dessert. Rice pudding!? Really? Nothing prepared me for what turned up. With an almost mousse-like consistency is was a revelation. Creamy, light and with a lovely pear topping. Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh “Symphonie d’Automne” 2011 – Domaine Bethoumieu – Sud Ouest – I don’t normally order dessert wine, but glasses like this make me wish I did. Sweet without being cloying, fruity without being brash. Heavenly. The fact that it came with a candle in the top was a lovely touch. Café et Petits Fours Coffee and Sweets The coffee was beautifully made and darkly roasted. The petit fours were perfect – a miniature carrot cake, a very good blackcurrant macaron, a glazed cape gooseberry and a lemon and poppyseed tuile. They also served a small pot with hazlenut nougat and coffee chocolates. The whole meal was magical – I didn’t feel uncomfortably full at the end and the wine was perfectly paced. The service was absolutely flawless – kind, attentive and very knowledgeable. They paced the dishes beautifully and we never felt like we were waiting or being rushed. They knew a huge amount about the food and wine, happily answering our questions. With many celebrity chefs you’re never sure which of their empire they’ll be at on a given evening (if any). Michel Roux Jr still works at Le Gavroche full time, so I had my hopes up, but when he walked out of the kitchen I was still star struck. He takes the time to talk to every table and was happy to chat about Masterchef and the dishes they cook on the show. It really adds something to the meal and made my evening very special. Later, my utterly wonderful friend asked our waiter if we could have a look round the kitchen – after a quick check we were ushered in. A hive of activity, the kitchen is surprisingly small, 10-15 chefs hunched over their benches crafting culinary perfection. We had another chat with Michel and were shown round the various stations and teams. I was struck by how traditional is it – they use a conventional ice cream machine instead of a Pacojet and most of the cooking is done on the hot top instead of in water baths. In the corner an enormous vat of veal stock happily bubbles away - the base of most of their sauces. A great experience! If I had to sum-up Le Gavroche it would be: tradition, balance and service. It’s one of London’s most enduring culinary landmarks and with good reason. The food isn’t trying to be clever or innovative, it’s just top quality ingredients, carefully cooked, thoughtfully combined and served in a way that lets them do all the talking. Dining done like this is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a whole experience: service, décor, ambience, food, wine and company all working together perfectly. Yes, it’s very expensive and I don’t imagine I’ll ever go again, but it was absolutely worth it.