It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!
One of the rewards of having a gastronomically obsessed father is a bi-annual block booking for 100 lunch covers at Le Gavroche. Commendably, this peerless temple of high cuisine refuses to partner a dish with a wine that they haven’t previously road-tested and yesterday was the day of judgement. I was off to meet the Chef-patron Michel Roux, Head Sommelier David Galetti and Director of Operations Silvano Giraldin to trial different wines with specially selected dishes. As ever I felt slightly shabby alongside Michel’s crisp chefs’ whites and Silvano’s faultless Italian tailoring but our first task was relatively straightforward. What fizz should we serve to accompany a palate-stimulating selection of canapés? Nothing too heavy, this is for a lunch-time function after all, but we need enough weight to partner food. After a quick tasting and short discussion we settled on a Saint Péray Mousseux Brut from Jean-Louis Thiers. Silvano proclaimed this bottle-fermented Marsanne from the Northern Rhône to be an ‘interesting crowd-pleaser’ and dry enough to benefit from a shot of Crème de Cassis for those that are that way inclined.
As Silvano and I settled at the table the kitchen then went into overdrive and a succession of amuse-bouches and starters arrived thick and fast. A charlotte potato terrine with friseé salad and duck gizzards was subtle and superb but was soon trumped by a divine dish of seared scallops, langoustines and whelks with a parsley and garlic sauce. Curried mussels with wilted spinach lifted the palate but proved less wine-friendly than its predecessor which had married brilliantly with a rare white Brézème and an on-form Pouilly Fumé ‘Les Loges’ - both in the superb 2009 vintage. Just as we were fixing upon a piscine theme a game consommé arrived accompanied by a partridge mousse and ceps which opened the betting wide. Seafood fought back as two classic coastal wines were served – a 2009 Picpoul de Pinet from Domaine Peyreficade and a 2008 Cassis from Clos Sainte Magdeleine. A dish of gurnard with artichokes, porcini and Bayonne ham was heavenly as was a fillet of Terriyaki cod served with a rice cake and citrus sauce, although only the white Brézème was weighty enough to juxtapose the salty cod. Yet more langoustines then appeared, this time with a crispy chicken wing, pickled peppers and a sweetcorn sauce. This worked well with all four wines and we were pretty sold upon it until the kitchen produced a final starter of seared scallops with squid ink tapioca and parsley sauce. Quel choix. You wouldn’t want to leave this to amateurs. We finally decided to lead with the squid and tapioca as an appetiser and have a more substantial portion of the gurnard and porcini mushrooms to follow, both to be partnered with the Pouilly Fumé and the Brézème blanc.
Unbuckling my belt a notch or two as Silvano greeted some regulars, I braced myself for the main courses. Neck of highland beef with fondant potatoes, red onion confit and broccoli set the bar quite high when paired with a brace of classic Rhônes - the 2005 Gigondas from Domaine Saint Gayan and a Domaine Biguet Cornas in the same vintage. It also showed well against two outsiders – the 2008 ‘Cuvée Tradition’ Côtes de Provence from Domaine Richeaume and a precocious 2007 Faugères from Château des Estanilles. Any normal selection committee could have flipped a coin and happily retired at this juncture but at Le Gavroche the highest standards must be maintained. A sublime veal fillet with morels, mashed potato and baby carrots was sidelined for being a touch out of season and too similar to what was served last time we convened. Roast partridge with roast chestnuts and game jus upped the ante considerably but a wild card entry of Chausson de Canard (a posh pasty to the uninitiated) brought the house down and was declared a clear winner. All four red wines had an affinity for the duck in pastry but after much deliberation we settled on the Côtes de Provence and the Gigondas.
Having partaken of 12 dishes at this stage we were fully warmed-up for desserts. A bitter chocolate praline with gold leaf made for a very tough wine match and only a dark Banyuls Réserva from Domaine la Tour Vieille proved capable of coping with its intense flavours. This was (sensibly) considered too heavy a dish to follow the duck but the ‘Assiette du Chef’, a plate featuring small portions of (at least) five desserts was a real show stopper but again made for very difficult wine pairing. A 2009 Coteaux du Layon Rablay from Château la Tomaze and 2007 Monbazillac were then bought into play alongside a classic Tarte Tatin served with the best vanilla ice-cream I have ever tasted. Just when it appeared things couldn’t be improved upon we were served a pear sabayon that married perfectly with the delicate orchard fruit flavours of the Coteaux du Layon, so it is that exquisite partnership that they will serve at our lunch party next Thursday 14th October.
We do still have a few places left next week so if you want to sample the cuisine of the master ‘Master Chef’ give us a call on 01747 860 423 or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My diet commences tomorrow….