Small portions expertly prepared.
Eating out can be a waist-expanding exercise as I’ve found to my detriment since starting this blog – if you’re on a diet then eating at restaurants is not a good way to stick to it. Gauthier Soho has taken a rather honest approach to this dilemma. Rather than concocting ‘healthy’ dishes, the amount of calories in each dish is now listed in the menu next to each item. Most people will be more concerned by the other set of numbers on the menu – the prices. Although there is a bargain-priced set lunch available, the a la carte and tasting menus are unavoidably pricy, but it’s a price well worth paying as the Euro Hedgie and I discovered.
Gauthier Soho is situated inside an old Georgian townhouse, so the candle-lit dining rooms are split over multiple floors. The cosy, candlelit interior are starkly decorated, but small flashes of eccentric personality occasionally shine through from the small busts of Napoleon to the homoerotic portraits in the men’s bathroom. Service was faultlessly polite and efficient.
The Euro Hedgie and I opted for the tasting menu which, like the other menus at Gauthier Soho, changes every month to accommodate seasonal ingredients. The amuse bouche consisted of several items, many of which were uninspired. The smoked salmon parcels were utterly unremarkable, as were the cheese sticks with mustard cream.
The amuse bouche was rescued by the tomato and basil macaron. French macarons are usually sweet pastries served as petit fours, so a savoury version is very unusual. Gauthier’s version successfully captured the flavour of tomato in the pastry and the unmistakable taste of basil in the cream sandwiched between the two slices of tomato pastry. The macaron was yieldingly soft with a slight chewiness. Superb.
Gauthier’s inventiveness didn’t stop there. I expected the foie gras royale to come in its usual form of a pâté/terrine plainly served with bread of some kind, but it arrived instead in a totally unexpected form. The foie gras was served with icy slices of sweet cucumber and broad beans and then topped with a parmesan foam and an icy port and cherry granita. I’m usually highly sceptical and dismissive of foams, but the parmesan foam successfully captured the distinctive taste of that particular cheese which complimented the creamy, fatty foie gras lip smackingly well – all of which would’ve been spoiled by the texture of the cheese had the parmesan simply been served in its traditional form. The crisp cucumber and broad beans provided an interesting contrast in texture, while the acidity of the fruit granita provided an interesting counterpart in flavour to the fatty foie gras. The Euro Hedgie seemed to be in two minds about the dish, but I enjoyed it immensely.
Following the foie gras was a lone scallop covered in a crustacean sauce and served with a red pepper marmalade. The tender, fresh scallop was complimented well by the sweetness of the marmalade which effectively captured the sharp taste of a red pepper, but I wasn’t convinced by the crustacean sauce which added little to the dish.
Although the Euro Hedgie and I disagreed over the foie gras royale, we both enjoyed the truffle risotto. Unlike many truffle dishes I’ve had recently, the truffles here were wonderfully fragrant with a pleasant, earthy smell. The large grains of rice were creamy, but not in a sickly way, and were deliciously moreish when combined with the chewy texture of the truffle shavings and the dark, tangy gravy.
I almost laughed at the arrival of the sea bass and squid. A tiny fillet of sea bass paired with especially tiny baby squid which were almost lost behind the mini chunk of artichoke recalled some of the worst excesses of minuscule proportioned nouvelle cuisine in the 1980s. The sea bass was fresh and flavoursome though with a crisp layer of skin that was complimented well by the slightly chewy baby squid. I was unconvinced by the squid ink and lemon dressing which added little though.
Pork is an unjustly overlooked meat. The strips of piglet here aren’t the best example of pork you’ll find, but it’s still definitely one of the finer renditions. The tender, delicate, well-cooked, slightly salty pork was complimented well by the tart taste of the plum sauce. Even better was the thin, crispy crackling.
No dinner at a French restaurant would be complete without a cheese course. The comté was creamy, nutty and sweet, but lacked the salt-like crystallisation found in the very best, well-matured examples of the cheese. The brie de meaux tasted much like every other brie I’ve ever had while the boldly flavoured goats cheese had a surprisingly hard, chalky texture to it. I firmly believe in enjoying cheese in its own right without any extras, but if you disagree there are crackers, quince jelly and chutney as accompaniments.
Cheese made a surprise cameo appearance in the first dessert. A camembert foam was stuffed inside a chocolate wafer tube which is just as gimmicky and pointless as it sounds. Much more successful was the rest of the dessert. An icy cherry sorbet and a very strongly flavoured cherry jelly all accompanied by deseeded fresh cherries. As a fan of cherries I greatly enjoyed it, although I could have done without the foam-filled wafer tube and would’ve loved more of the cherry jelly.
Although the menu at Gauthier changes often, one constant is the Golden Louis XV. Although the exterior of this dessert appears to be a solid chocolate shell, it’s actually more like a semi-melted liquid covering of dark, bittersweet chocolate. Underneath are layers of crisp, sweet, nutty praline. It’s a sublime combination and is rightly Gauthier’s signature dish.
The selection of petit fours is boldly flavoured from a very sweet raspberry tartlet to a coconut ball and a dark chocolate truffle. Pleasing, but ultimately forgettable in the shadow of the cherry dessert and the Golden Louis XV.
I washed it all down with a white peach nectar which successfully captured the aroma and taste of peaches in liquid form without being sickly sweet – a common problem with other nectars I’ve had.
Although there were one or two hiccups, the food at Gauthier Soho is inventive, consistently well executed and surprisingly filling. Gauthier Soho’s superb execution of delicate flavours and contrasting textures combined with almost effortless service make it one of London’s most refined restaurants that’s well worth seeking out despite its high price.
Name: Gauthier Soho
Address: 21 Romilly Street, London, W1D 5AF
Phone: 020 7494 3111
Opening Hours: Lunch Monday to Friday – noon-14.30; dinner Monday to Saturday 17.30-22.30; closed Sundays.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks: £100 approx (the tasting menu in this review is currently available as a 2-for-1 deal until the end of August 2011 when booked by phone).