Entries in London (6)


Le Gavroche

For the second major meal of our London trip, we chose the two-star Le Gavroche. This restaurant opened in 1967 in Sloane Street, moving in 1981 to its current quarters in Upper Brook Street, just steps away from Hyde Park, where it earned its third Michelin star, the first U.K. restaurant to be so honored.

The founding chef, Michel Roux, left to take over The Waterside Inn in Bray, which I reviewed two years ago. His son, Michel Roux Jr., took over as chef de cuisine. Michelin docked a star, leaving Le Gavroche with two. The Waterside Inn is the prettier location, but we found the cuisine here more impressive. This was probably our best meal since the late lamented Alain Ducasse at the Essex House.

The restaurant is on the lower level of an elegant Georgian townhouse, with a hotel occupying the upper levels. The Roux family once owned the hotel too, but it is now independent. The dining room walls are deep green, the banquettes plush. Ducks and roosters dominate the décor, along with orchids.

The restaurant is named for the little urchin in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. That little figure appears everywhere at Le Gavroche, including the handles of all the flatware, many of the serving pieces, the door to the kitchen, and probably other places I failed to notice.

Prices can only be described as staggering. The Menu Exceptionnel (a long tasting menu) was £95 (around $190) per person. I didn’t take note of individual prices, except to note that many entrées were upwards of $70 or $80 apiece (and some more than that), with many appetizers in the $40 to $60 range. As we noted the night before, in relation to what we were already bound to spend anyway, the tasting menu seemed to be a bargain. so we chose that once again.

Once again, we avoided ordering until we had settled on a wine. And once again, the staff acted as if this was an unusual procedure, though we didn’t get the snooty reaction we had at Hibiscus. Here the choice was more difficult, as the wine list is a large volume. I noted that the largest section was the French Bordeaux, so I asked the sommelier for a Bordeaux under £60. You can imagine my surprise when he recommended a 1997 St. Julien at just £48. He decanted it with much ceremony, holding a candle up to the bottle to check for sediment. (In the U.S., Bern’s Steakhouse is the only restaurant where I have observed that procedure.)

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of the photos. The ambient lighting here was low, and we didn’t feel it was appropriate to use the flash. It went off once by accident; it will probably be pretty obvious which photo that was.


The canapés (above left) were smoked duck and foie gras. I liked the duck a bit better, but they were both excellent. The bread service offered two contrasting butters (salted, not) and multiple breads, but none of them were memorable. We then moved on to our eight-course menu, a copy of which was on the table, a method I like much better than long explanations delivered at the table.

1) Lobster Salad with Mango, Avocado, Basil and Lime (above right), stuffed in an endive leaf.


2) Langoustine and Snails (above left) in a light Hollandaise sauce, flavored with Basque pepper and parsley. As Michelle noted, though the menu did not, there was about half a pound of butter in this dish. It was intensely creamy, but the combination worked beautifully.

3) Seared Sea Bass (above right) on a soft polenta, roast pepper coulis, olive and garlic croutons. Michelle called it “one of the prettiest fish presentations I’ve seen,” and “just amazing.” The intense olive and pepper taste worked well with the perfectly prepared fish.


4) Hot Foie Gras and Crispy Pancake of Duck (above left) flavored with cinnamon. This was perhaps the best foie gras dish ever: amazing. The seared foie reduced to liquid almost instantly, but it seemed neither fatty nor heavy. It was a fairly large serving, too. The duck pancake was the pancake I want for breakfast every day.

5) Roasted Rack of Welsh Lamb (above right), courgette flower fritter and tarragon jus. The rack of lamb was carved and plated tableside. It was soft as butter, and the deep-fried squash blossom also perfect.


6) Next came the cheese course. There was a large selection, from which we each chose five, and portions were generous. I didn’t note the individual cheeses, but we wanted sharp, intense-tasting ones, and we got them.


7) Ouefs à la Neige, or Soft Caramel-covered Meringue, Vanilla Cream and Poached Strawberries (above left). The flavors were intense and clear.

8) Bitter Chocolate and Coffee-Layered Sponge Cake and Chocolate Sorbet (above right). I’m not a chocolate guy, but Michelle pronounced it a success. I liked the coffee flavor. (Sorry for the awful photo.)


One of the petits-fours plates is shown above; there were others, but the photo isn’t presentable.

The restaurant was about 85% full on a Saturday in mid-August, and we were gratified to find that the average age of the clientele seemed to be under 45. The New York media repeatedly inform us that “young people” aren’t interested in composed formal meals of the kind Le Gavroche offers. Whether it’s even true in New York is debatable, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be true in London.

Service was superb; I can’t really find any fault with it. Nor with the food, which was at the highest level we’ve experienced.

Le Gavroche (43 Upper Brook Street, London)

Food: ****
Service: ****
Ambiance: ****
Overall: ****




On a recent trip to London, my girlfriend and I wanted to try a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants. Full disclosure is due: both of our first choices were fully booked, but we landed on two very good alternatives, starting with Hibiscus. The chef, Claude Bosi, was born in Lyon and trained in France, but his cuisine relies heavily on locally-sourced ingredients. If you’d told me he was English, I would have believed it.

The restaurant opened in Shropshire in 2000, winning a Michelin star in 2001 and a second star in 2004. Eager to play on the big stage, he moved the restaurant to London in 2007, and the Michelin folks knocked him back down to one star. The menu is £60 for a three-course prix-fixe or £75 for the nine-course tasting menu. We thought that £15 was a modest premium to pay for a much broader sample of Chef Bosi’s cuisine, so we went with that.


We began with a bowl of warm, slightly salty gougères. The bread didn’t especially impress me, but we loved the soft Welsh cow’s-milk butter. It had an unusually high fat content, which imparted a yellow color, and was also a bit more salty than most butters.


1) The amuse-bouche was a Chilled Cucumber & Pineapple Soda (above left) with smoked olive oil and black pepper. This was very clever dish, slightly chunky, but with the consistency of soda.

2) Ravioli of Spring Onion & Cinnamon (above right) with meadowsweet flower, roast onion, and Granny Smith apple. This was a delicate dish, in which the ingredients worked perfectly together. The roasted onions were formed into little pellets that seemed solid, but melted instantly at the touch.


3) Tartare of Line-caught Cornish Mackerel (above left) with English strawberries & celery, wasabi & honey dressing. There was a lot on the plate, but this dish was extremely mild, and could almost have used a bit more punch. I couldn’t really detect much of the wasabi.

4) Roast Cornish Lobster cooked in Brown Butter (above right) with green bean and lemongrass purée, Cavaillon melon. This had the “oomph” that the previous dish lacked. Michelle’s comment was, “This was really very nice.”


5) Roast Monkfish (above left), Mona Lisa gnocchi, summer truffle, sage & onion purée, mead sauce. This had a nice savory, healthy flavor.

6) Lightly Oak-smoked Lamb Sweetbreads (above right) with fresh goat cheese, tamarillow powder, and lettuce veloute. The sweetbreads had a terrific smokey flavor, and everything on the plate worked well together. To me, this was the most remarkable dish of the evening.


7) Roast Goosnargh Duck (above left), cherries scented with lapsang Souchong, barbecued almond butter, and cauliflower four ways (purple cauliflower couscous, white cauliflower purée, and roasted cauliflower × 2). The duck was flavorful but a little too tough.

8) SweetTomato Skin (above right) with vanilla & frozen raspberries, held together with gelatin. Michelle said, “It’s so light, it’s like eating a cloud.” The tomato taste was in the background, while the raspberries were wonderful. 


9 ) English Pea & American Mint Tart (above left), sheep’s milk whey & coconut sorbet. Michelle called this “the oddest thing I’ve ever tasted,” and “very strange.” I found it bizarre. That didn’t stop us from finishing the whole thing, but we felt that a tart made of peas misfired. At the end of a long meal, one wants a real dessert, not an appetizer masquerading as dessert.

The petits-fours (above right) were just fine.

Service was generally good, with many sauces applied at table-side, but some dishes weren’t cleared quite as promptly as they should be, and the staff were occasionally frazzled. We had trouble understanding the explanations of quite a few of the dishes. We got a printed menu at the end, but it would have been a lot easier had this been left on the table.

The server seemed offended when I said I wanted to make a wine selection before we ordered. I don’t know if our habits are unusual, but I’ve found that if you don’t choose the wine before placing the food order, you’re liable to be eating the first couple of courses with only water to drink. I haven’t noted the bottle we chose, except that we paid £43 for it (a reasonable price by London standards). The list was not an especially long one. After I narrowed down the choice to two bottles, the sommelier made a very good recommendation and decanted the wine without being asked to do so.

We were gratified to note that the restaurant was full in mid-August, with a mixed demographic of young people and jeans, old folks in suits, and everything in between. The clientele did not seem to be tourists. The tables are not overly cramped, but the noise level was on the loud side after the space filled up. The décor is a mediation on taupe and pine, but bright orange charger plates (pictured at the top of this post) give the room a dash of color.

Chef Bosi dares to challenge his audience on occasion. There were a couple of misfires, but on the whole this was a happy experience.

Hibiscus (29 Maddox Street, London)

Food: **½
Service: **½
Ambiance: **½
Overall: **½



I’ve just returned from a week in London. On past trips, I’ve spent my London evenings at the theatre. This trip, I wanted to focus on restaurants. I arrived on a Wednesday, but had no specific reservations until Friday.

On Thursday, I was a bit under-the-weather and didn’t want to travel far. Mosaique was located about a ten-minute walk from my hotel. On a stiflingly hot evening, its open-air façade and faintly Mediterranean décor seemed appropriate.

I loved deep-fried brie (£3.50), two pie-shaped slices with a charred-brown exterior from the deep fryer, and with a lingonberry sauce. Monkfish (£9.25) was tender and came with a vegetable medley. Add a half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (£9.50), and I was out of there for £22.25, making this probably the best dining bargain of the trip. There were two servers, who kept things running efficiently.

The restaurant is not really near any important destinations, so which might explain why only a handful of tables were taken. It’s a reasonably walk from King’s Cross, Russell Square, Farringdon, and Holborn, without really being convenient to any of them. 

Mosaique (73 Gray’s Inn Road, between Guilford St and Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8TP)

Food: *½
Service: *½
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½


Le Pont de la Tour

A colleague recommended Le Pont de la Tour for its superb views of Tower Bridge (for which it’s named) and the Tower of London, from a perch along the boardwalk on the south bank of the Thames. There are numerous outdoor tables. None of these were available, but I was given an excellent window table facing the Tower, and as the windows were wide open, it amounted to the same thing. The décor is refined and elegant. I was overheated from an unexpectedly long walk, and started with a Pimms cocktail (£5.95) to cool off.

The menu is squarely in the French tradition. My colleague particularly recommended the chateaubriand, advice that several reviews on the web confirmed, but this signature dish is available only for two. I asked the server for an alternative recommendation. He must love the menu, for he went on to describe pretty much all of it, but his knowledge of the cuisine was impeccable—at least for the two dishes I tried. All of the options placed Le Pont de la Tour squarely in the French tradition.

I started with the morteaux sausage (£9.50), which came sliced, and with a honey mustard sauce. Sea trout, at £18.00, was the least expensive of the main courses. I wasn’t particularly looking to economize, but the server said the poached sea trout was ideal if one didn’t want to eat anything “heavy,” which was indeed the case on a sweltering evening. I’m usually not keen on filet fish prepared that simply, but this dish showed there are an exceptions to every rule when the flesh is as tender and the preparation as perfect as this one was.

The sommelier recommended a wonderful half-bottle of Chablis. I’m most definitely not a Chablis guy—it always seems to be the dullest of the white grapes, the way Merlot so often is among the reds. But this one, at £19.25, was wonderful, showing that even Chablis can rise above the commonplace.

When I arrived shortly after 8:00 p.m., most of the inside tables weren’t yet occupied, but by the time I’d finished my appetizer and main course—around 9:00 p.m.—the restaurant was nearly full. Service had been superb up to that point, but things slowed down considerably. It would take another 50 minutes for me to order and receive an order of French Coffee (£6.75), and to settle my bill. It was nice to know that they weren’t hurrying to unseat me from my table with a prime view, but that coffee took an awfully long time to prepare.

All-in, dinner came to £59.45 before tip.

Le Pont de al Tour (Butlers Wharf, 36d Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***


The Savoy Grill

Despite my keen interest in Gilbert and Sullivan, I’ve never dined at the Savoy Hotel (though I had high tea there once, many years ago). I had wanted to dine at three-star Gordon Ramsay, but that restaurant is closed this summer for refurbishing. I chose the Savoy Grill instead, which turned out to be another restaurant in Ramsay’s large empire, though I didn’t realize this when I booked.

The Savoy Grill is more formal than its name would suggest, with fussy French-style service and tuxedo-clad waiters reminding me a bit of Alain Ducasse in New York. It is a much larger restaurant than Ducasse, and only one star, rather than three, so they are not quite as attentive, but many of the ideas are similar. The previous evening, I had a lovely window seat facing the Tower of London. At the Savoy Grill, I was seated next to a large column with a view of the hotel driveway.

After I sat down, a server wheeled over a cart with several champagnes, from which I was invited to choose. In this type of restaurant, I’m always wary of getting stuck with something that costs $20 a sip, so I asked him for a printed list. He was apparently confused about this, and asked if I’d like bottled water. I said that tap water would be fine. With barely concealed disgust, he slid my water glass to the edge of the table (apparently a signal to his colleagues that this chump doesn’t want the bottled variety) and moved on.

When a server arrived, I explained that I did want champagne. He apologized and sent the champagne guy back over. He remained quite irritated that I wanted to see a list of the choices, but he managed to point out where they were on the wine list, and I chose one. For all that trouble, it was worth it—a glass of sparkling rosé that was surprisingly sweet and smooth.

The regular menu is a £55 prix fixe, but on weekends there is a £30 alternative, which they call the “grill menu,” with six appetizers and six main courses to choose from. Several of these looked compelling, so I decided to save myself £25. Smoked salmon (£4 supplement) was unimpressive. It came without sauces or any other accompaniments, and the taste was no better than average. Particularly for a dish that carries a supplement, I expected a better performance.

Wiltshire pork belly was a tour de force. (After I ordered it, the server mentioned that it was a particular favorite of his.) It was cut in a long strip, in the shape of two thick cigars placed end-to-end. It was tender, fatty, and flavorful. As the server had proved he and I had similar tastes, I accepted his recommendation of the white chocolate cake for dessert, and this was most enjoyable.

There was, again, a reasonable selection of half-bottles available. Remembering my happy experience with Chablis at Le Pont de la Tour, I chose Chablis again (£25), but this was a more pedestrian bottle that reminded me why I don’t usually order Chablis.

After the champagne fiasco, the server went out of his way to ensure I was taken care of. If anything, the service was a bit too rushed, and I was out of there in about an hour. When I’m paying this kind of money, I’d prefer that the meal unwind a bit more slowly. However, to their credit the champagne was comped. (At least, I think it was—nothing was said, but it wasn’t on the bill). In total, dinner came to £59 before tip.

When I told the server that I’m from New York, he introduced me to the house manager, who will be transferring to New York later this year to manage Gordon Ramsay’s first American restaurant, which will be gunning for three Michelin and four New York Times stars. We had a pleasant chat and exchanged business cards. Obviously my Savoy Grill experience is not indicative of Ramsay’s three-star cuisine, but I’d advise him to focus hard on the kind of service glitches that the Times’s current reviewer tends to penalize.

One wonders how much time Ramsay will be able to spend in New York. The house manager said that Ramsay will be there for “the first few months,” and then occasionally thereafter. Ramsay has something like nine restaurants in London alone. Coincidentally, during my stay I saw him on a TV show called “The f word,” which features Ramsay swearing at everybody in sight. In the show’s main vignette, four amateur cooks do a service in the kitchen with Ramsay, in which he hurls expletives at them on the slightest provcation. The guests don’t seem to mind, as they all seem to know about Ramsey’s famous temper. Being told to shut the fuck up is obviously part of the game.

The Savoy Grill (Savoy Hotel, Strand, London, WC2R 0EU)

Food: **½
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **



Hakkasan resembles the “big-box” Asian restaurants that have taken over Manhattan (Buddakan, Megu, Matsuri, Ono). It’s located in a quiet back street that is practically guaranteed not to attract walk-in foot traffic. A friendly goomba asks for your name at the door. If you’re not already on his list, you’re not getting in. Then, it’s down three flights of stairs to a dimly-lit subterranean lair, with a modern Asian décor, although most of the staff seem to be Westerners. Just about every seat in the large space is taken.

With all of those gimmicks, you’d expect the food to be almost secondary, but Hakkasan has a Michelin star, and they seem to have earned it. A dim sum platter (£10.00) came with eight pieces. I have to admit that I didn’t recognize what was in them, but they were fluffy, tender, and delicious. Stir-fried Mongolian venison (£18.50) may have been a tad over-priced, but the spicy preparation was expertly judged, and lacked the generically over-salty taste to which stir-fry sometimes succumbs. Egg fried rice (£3.50) was also excellent A colleague recommended the signature cocktails, which came with names like The Hakka, Green Destiny, and the Lychee Martini (all £8.50). I was feeling pretty happy after three of those.

The clamor for tables at Hakkasan is obviously intense. When I called for a 7:30 p.m. reservation on a Tuesday evening, the hostess replied, “The table is booked for 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.” I know that some people resent being told in advance when they have to leave, but I am more than capable of finishing my dinner in two hours, and at this type of restaurant I don’t really mind the restriction.

Big-box Asian restaurants are getting a bad name in New York. There are so many of them now, with the menu often designed practically by rote. At Hakkasan, they really seem to care about the food.

The bill came to £57.50 before tip.

Hakkasan (8 Hanway Place near Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9DH)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **