The Franco-British rivalry has been going on since genesis and is a history fraught with bloody wars and petty squabbles.
And yet, tucked away on Upper Brook street, close to the homes of icons such as Jimmy Hendrix and William Henry Davies is a London restaurant that has got both nations on the same page for the past 48 years.
Brothers Albert and Michel Roux teamed up in 1967 to create Le Gavroche, a name taken from classic french play “Les Miserables” which loosely translated means, little street urchin.
But don’t be fooled by the name.
An inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records for the most expensive meal award and the honor of being the first restaurant in the UK to be awarded three Michelin stars proves that there is nothing lowbrow about this establishment,“Au Contraire!”
Le Gavroche made French gastronomie popular with London’s upper crust in the late 60’s thanks to a finely crafted menu that introduced “haute cuisine” to the swinging city and with their restaurant, the Roux’s succeeded in putting London on the foodies map where there was once only a yellowed tea stain.
Le Gavroche has since moved from its lower Sloane origins to Upper Brooke Street, but this is still a family affair. The kitchen is now under the command of Michel Roux Jr, a man who needs no introduction to anyone following the current wave of celebrity chefs.
With a pedigree deeply ingrained in traditional French Gastronomy, Roux Jr was always the ideal candidate to take over his father’s restaurant. An engaging character that won the masses over with a warm smile and fair criticism whilst judging on Britain’s Master Chef. The man is now ubiquitous with Le Gavroche. However, things could have taken a completely different turn.
Raised to the sounds of sizzling pans and the aroma of fresh herbs stewing in pots, it didn’t take long for Roux Jr to decide what he would do in life. His culinary apprenticeship started when he left home at 16 to train under the Master Patissier Hellegouarche and one of the pioneers of “nouvelle cuisine” Alain Chapel. Despite Le Gavroche already being successful at the time, he wanted to train outside a family business that in his mind, did not suit his ideology of what cuisine ought to be about.
Michel Roux considered the restaurant to be too elitist and instead, wished to prepare food that could touch the masses.
Well thank god that some coaxing from dad and a change of heart saw him take over the restaurant in the 90’s, and the rest as they say, is history.
Keep this in mind the next time you sit down at Le Gavroche because it’s not just another Michelin restaurant (though of course that definitely adds to the charm!) but it’s also, a veritable institution of the British culinary scene.
Le Gavroche is doggedly faithful to the classic french cuisine which saw its rise to popularity all these years back, but Roux Jr keep things fresh by trimming down some of the dishes to include less fat, cream and butter.
The salad of octopus and soft shell crab is a summer dish that sings with the zest of lemon syrup, the bite of mild chili sprinkled over a tomato concassée and layered over braised octopus tentacles. The dish is nicely rounded off by a deep fried and crispy soft shelled crab which is only put in the pan for a few minutes to keep its taste bold and flavorsome.
The tasteful soufflées are what Le Gavroche is most known for and if you manage to secure a table (they’re often booked 3 months in advance) you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Simmered to a silky rich sauce, the Soufflée Suissesse cooked in double cream avoids being overly rich and is instead and ethereal offering that simply melts in the mouth.
Michel Roux Jr is not shy on the spices, and his Stone Bass and Pastilla, flavored with Arabian Spices is generous with the fiery stuff but manages to not go overboard and alienate the somewhat conservative crowd that usually dines at the restaurant.
Despite being something of a celebrity thanks to his Master Chef stint and his own show, The Professionals, Michel Roux, still works full time at Le Gavroche and makes the effort to meet and greet guests whenever he is around so you might just get the chance to shake the virtuoso’s hand and have a chat.
A trip to Le Gavroche is akin to a pilgrimage for the European foodie. The restaurant’s philosophy and heritage singlehandedly reshaped London’s culinary scene and you need to know what caused such a fuss.
In our opinion, it was probably the soufflées.