I had dinner at Brasserie Chavot twice in four days. And neither visit was a press freebie: that’s how good this restaurant is. The first meal was with my parents who had arrived for the weekend and announced that they fancied “something French for a change”. Trying to book somewhere half decent at 5pm on an early summer Saturday wasn’t going to be easy.
Galvin Bistro de Luxe on Baker Street was where we ate last time, but after nibbling on a tiny designer pigeon and swigging a thimbleful of parsnip foam, my mum was still hungry – and for £70 a head, it’s a shame to have the cabbie swing by Chicken Cottage on the way home. Orrery was fully booked so I called Brasserie Chavot, despite their having opened only a fortnight earlier to the sound of broadsheet critics jizzing into their snails Bourguignon.
Now, Eric Chavot has been mentored by the A-team: Pierre Koffman; Raymond Blanc; and Marco Pierre-White; and as head chef at The Capital in Knightsbridge he held two Michelin stars for ten years between 1999 and 2009, so as the phone rang I had visions of Patrick Bateman calling up Dorsia, asking for a reservation and being greeted by silence and then hysterical laughter.
“I can seat three people at 7.30pm if that works?” said the hostess.
That worked nicely.
Forgive me. I would love to be able to describe the deliberately distressed mirrored walls, the curve of the chandeliers’ bulbs, the feel of the leather on the classic red banquettes, even the stories on the newspaper cones holding triple-cooked pommes frites – but I can’t. The food was just so damn good, it’s all I remember. Our table was at the top of the restaurant just by the bar, far enough from the next table so we could talk about them without them hearing, but close enough to eye their mains. The clinking and clamour was just enough to feel at home, but not so much that we couldn’t hear Joe Dassin’s “Aux Champs Elysées” bouncing sweetly in the background. Twee, but it worked.
It was all so fabulous that I went back the following Tuesday with a writer friend. He lives in India and mourns his separation from beef
It all started with Pineau des Charentes, best described as a fridge-cold glass of tawny port, and a little too rich for an aperitif. But then the magic began. Snails Bourguignon with meatballs arrived in a little glass dish, looking like an M&S shepherds pie for one, but tasting like a beefy, brothy, red-wine-soaked stew, with a waft of potato carefully blown across the surface. Apprehensive about the combination of snails and beef – which were much like salty cèpes and beef – I was soon running a finger around the side of the bowl. Both my parents had the crab mayonnaise with avocado, doing that side-smiling, eye-closing thing and choosing not to offer any.
Fanned out in all its glistening glory, each slice of the filet de canette a l’orange was a bougainvillea pink, rimmed with a sliver of fat with dark crisp edges next to caramelised endives. Grilled poussin arrived spatchcocked, looking as though it had so enjoyed its massage of garlic, cracked salt and chilli that it simply lay back and surrendered itself to the charcoal grill. Accompanied with a hunk of sunshine-yellow caramelised lemon, the chicken was tender, fiery and delicious. The rump of Oisin venison with honey-glazed root vegetables inspired food envy in all who hadn’t ordered it: dark, earthy, rich, and excellent when paired with a glass of 2007 Bordeaux. The meal ended with the smack of teaspoons on the gleaming surface of crème brulee, which had the pleasing speckles of proper vanilla and the consistency of clotted cream.
It was all so fabulous that I went back the following Tuesday with a writer friend. He lives in India and mourns his separation from beef. Fed up with naan and roti, my friend devoured the basket of sourdough bread with his bellini and called for another, turning to me with his mouth hanging open. “This is the most fantastic bread I have ever had!”
After failing to compromise over which starters we were willing to share, we ordered the snails, and the scallops ceviche (not, it must be said, the best), and dithered over the chicken liver parfait. The canny waitress, knowing two gluttons when she saw them, asked the chef to give us a mini portion to share: a gleaming whorl of dusky pink with more potency in one finger lick than a slab of any parfait I’ve ever eaten.
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On my second visit I discovered the jewel in Chavot’s crown. The roast beef to share was on offer on Saturday night, but not this evening. However, after another swift visit to the kitchen, the waitress whispered that the chef would do it, appearing shortly with a wooden chopping board slapped with six hunks of the softest, pinkest, wettest steak and a wobble of oily marrow doused in garlic. Following the meat sweats and a bottle of Sancerre Rouge, my friend asked to see Eric Chavot to thank him personally for the beef.
And on a busy night, up he came.
Squatting by the table, the Frenchman nodded happily, gave a little bow on being thanked for the wonderful sourdough bread and vanished. A minute later he returned carrying a large foil-wrapped parcel – an entire sourdough loaf for my friend to take back to Delhi.
For that reason alone, Monsieur Chavot, I’ll be going back again. C
Brasserie Chavot, 41 Conduit Street, London W1S 2YF
020 7183 6425; brasseriechavot.com