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Club Gascon Review

Julie Falconer is both delighted and confused with the flavours she finds at one of the city’s most talked about eateries

Published on June 3rd 2011.


Club Gascon Review

THERE is no shortage of French restaurants in London. From Michel Roux’s two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche to the corner bistros in the Francophile areas of South Kensington, Londoners don’t have to bother with the Eurostar to get quality French food.

However, it is not every day that a French restaurant in London specialises in one type of regional cuisine. That’s where Vincent Labeyrie and Pascal Aussignac shine. Their native Southwest France plays a starring role in the culinary lineup of their group of London restaurants, from the Michelin-starred Club Gascon to its siblings Comptoir Gascon and Le Cercle. Chef Pascal Aussignac emphasizes his regional roots in every dish, and sticks to what he knows to pull off award-winning cuisine.

IMG_7689.JPGAnd these being French restaurants, they also emphasize wine. French wine. That’s it. Why bother with anything else?

That is the first thing I noticed when I went to Club Gascon for dinner last week. The restaurant puts such an emphasis on wine, that it has a separate wine bar next door called Cellar Gascon. The bar is long and narrow, with tables lining a high banquette along the outer wall. Cellar Gascon serves small bites with Southwestern French flair, but its real emphasis is on the wine. The Southern French wine.

Even after every bit of the dessert was devoured, we still couldn’t decide what to make of the combination. We were even more surprised when our server told us that we had ordered one of the least complicated desserts on the menu. “Try the sweet foie gras next time,” he said with a smile. 

The wine list had an extensive selection of regional reds and whites, but as my date and I were there for a pre-dinner aperitif, we went with champagne. We were happy to see Ayala (£9) on the menu. The sister house of Bollinger, Ayala makes excellent bubbly. We each enjoyed a glass in the calm, earth-toned ambiance of Cellar Gascon, and then walked next door to Club Gascon for dinner.

IMG_7694.JPG

The hostess greeted us warmly upon arrival. She showed us to our table along the banquette in the intimate dining room. As we sat down, I looked around the small room, which was decorated in soft, light colors with large curtains on one side and a bar at the back of the room. On it sat the largest flower arrangement I had ever seen. It gave the room a hint of color that contributed nicely to the serene ambiance.

Our server came to the table promptly and explained to us that there were two options for dining: the tasting menu, which had an optional wine pairing, and the à la carte menu, which was non-traditional in that diners were encouraged to try three smaller dishes instead of the usual starter and main course.

We went with the latter, and chose three dishes, each from headers like La Route du Sel, Le Potager, L’Oceane, Les Paturages, and, this being a French restaurant, Foie Gras.

For our first course, we both had plates of grilled baby artichokes with barigoule and diablo sauces (£13.50). The artichokes were excellent. They were tender without being mushy, and held their shape and flavour well. The sauces complemented without overpowering, and the vegetable extras added some additional zest.

Next came the fricassee of “landes” white asparagus (£15). The asparagus was served as a thick puree. On top of it were accompanying vegetables, greens, mushrooms and spices, all of which blended well together but resisted being bland. It was a unique dish, and a great one.

My third plate was king scallops served with artichoke crush and a sauce of violets and blueberries (£20.50). Despite sounding interesting, it fell flat. The scallops themselves were fine, and would have been great on their own. But the sauce was strong and lacked coherence in flavour. Neither did it pair well with the shellfish. The end result was a dish that fought itself.

Disappointed, I stole a bite of my date’s Pyrenean lamb with Sherry, polenta cubes, and cranberries (£25). It tasted every bit as good as it looked. The lamb was moist and succulent, if a little hard to eat given the bones involved. The presentation was also great, with the food arriving on a porous metal plate over smoldering embers.

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Throughout the meal, we enjoyed a bottle of Domaine Alain Chabanon Coteaux du Languedoc “Les Boissieres” 2004 (£72). The sommelier recommended it after hearing what we ordered for dinner and asking us about our preferences. It was a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, and was elegant, nicely structured, and paired well with the food.

When dinner was finished, we couldn’t resist perusing the dessert menu. On it was a list of non-traditional sweet endings. From cheese with chocolate to sweet foie gras, each item surprised us with its uniqueness. We went with the Black Sheep (£9.50), a dish featuring cheese, chocolate, and caramel.

When it arrived, I was confused. I could see the chocolate cylinder in the center of the plate. I could see the puffy fluffs of caramel on the side. But where was the cheese? 

Our server explained that the cheese had been blended into the chocolate cylinder. We were intrigued. We tasted it. We sat and stared and tried to reconcile all of the intense yet distinct flavours. It was difficult. The cylinder was both savory and sweet at the same time, and the caramel was salty. Even after every bit of the dessert was devoured, we still couldn’t decide what to make of the combination.

We were even more surprised when our server told us that we had ordered one of the least complicated desserts on the menu. “Try the sweet foie gras next time,” he said with a smile. I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

When we left Club Gascon at 11pm, we were some of the last people in the restaurant. As we walked away, we were still pondering the mysteries of the Black Sheep. I think I might have to go back and try it again before I fully comprehend its complexity. That’s okay, though. It will give me an excuse to order more of the artichokes, asparagus, lamb, and other Southwestern French specialties.

 

Rating:           16/20 

Breakdown:    8/10 food

                       4/5 service

                       4/5 ambience 

Club Gascon
57 West Smithfield
London EC1A 9DS

 

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To read more of Julie’s writing, visit her London travel blog and Europe travel website.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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Mark GarnerJune 28th 2011.

That Coteaux du Languedoc is taking the piss a bit at £72 English; When I passed the front gate I could buy it at 6 Euros. Food sounds interesting mind you.

Cpt Newton-le-WillowsJune 28th 2011.

Julie beautiful writing but s not z please. Specializes not specialises? Emphesizes not emphesise?

ScarletJune 29th 2011.

Bloody Amerikans, eh? ;)

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