Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, EC1A 9DS

I’ve been to a few Michelin-starred restaurants in London (see my “Part I” review here – this was supposed to encourage friends to take me out for posh dinners more often so I could write a Part II!) and they all have their own distinct style and character. I’d actually never heard of Club Gascon which on reflection may be part of its own understated character.

It was unashamedly French (zis is an emmoooolsion of lemmmon) – all the wines were French and the food had a French influence. No new world wines here like you get in Pied a Terre. They were friendly too – and very nice to accomodate our growing drunkenness, hugging and fag breaks as the night wore on (I know, but it was a very long meal!). However it was not just traditional French, it was imaginative and interesting and thoughtful cooking – not what I was expecting.

How much you enjoy dinner is a sum of how good the food and service is, timed by the amount of good banter and love amongst your companions. I went last Friday and the night was filled with love – Giovanna invited Escobar for dinner to thank him for being a great friend (what a lovely thing to do!) and myself and Esmerelda turned up to flounce around and drink nice wine. So thank you to my wonderful companions for making it such an exceptional night.

We started with kir royales and champers, and then – well if you’re paying a lot you might as well go for it – we ordered the seasonal tasting menu (Le Marche) with the accompanying wine menu. At five courses plus amuses bouches, this was the perfect amount of food (I felt sick after the Pied a Terre ten-course tasting menu, and couldn’t remember pudding due to the accompanying wine flight).  I should say as well these photos are dreadful – my camera is terrible so I’m buying a new one soon. Doesn’t do the dishes justice, sorry. 

1. Amuses bouches

These were wonderfully imaginative (see this isn’t your ordinary traditional French cooking) – a mojito macaroon (a macaroon! that tastes like a mojito!), bloody mary mousse, gin jelly (this was bleurgh sadly, texture didn’t work) and a cosmopolitan crisp.

2. Escabeche of octopus with sunflower and bayonne ham.

This was quite wonderful – the octopus was juicy and meaty, the plates were lovely and it had samphire in it (my new gastro crush) – perfect.

3. Foie gras with “Pimms” and pancake

I didn’t realise quite how clever this dish was until afterwards – which either means that it was really very clever or that I’m not very clever. Anyway, again I applaud their imagination and sense of fun (is it fair to say this was a surprise in a French haute cuisine restaurant?) – we had a shot of Pimms before eating melt-in-your mouth foie gras, truly delicious, with the emmmooooolsion and pancake and tiny little balls of cucumber and strawberry which worked perfectly and went with the Pimms. Brilliant take of mixing a British drink and French plate.

4. Seared wild sea trout, aubergine variation and aromatic piquillo

Amazing soft almost sahimi-like trout with delicious aubergine salsa and a bunch of other stuff that tasted good too. Sauce a little thick perhaps but this was another wonderful course.

5. Braised veal belly, almonds, smoked tomato & truffle vinaigrette

This was my favourite course I think.  The veal tasted smoked or maybe that was the smoked tomato – anyway I’ve never tasted anything like it and the puree was delicious. Deserves a nom nom nom.

6. Amuse bouche pudding style

This was nice. By this time, things were all a little fuzzy. I think we asked if we could eat the fern. I’m not sure what they said. I ate some of the fern – I think it was for decoration purposes only. Love the marble platter.

7. Pistachio fondant, glazed cherries and hibiscus pearls

Really lovely, light and tasty – perfect end to the meal.

The meal was truly special – we were there for about 3 or 4 hours, had all this food accompanied by a beautiful glass of wine per course, plus coffees, sparkling water (for me, sparkling water is my “special meal” water – normally I do tap) and a kir royale/glass of champers to start, cost £470 for 4 or £117 each. Yes it isn’t cheap, and you wouldn’t go here every month, but for a la carte at somewhere like Chez Bruce, you wouldn’t pay much less, and its a lot cheaper than the same tasting menu/wine flight at Pied a Terre (where the amount of food and wine was a little ridiculous).  As a one-off special meal, on a special occasion like this, it was truly wonderful. I’d love to go back. Hint hint.

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