Club Gascon, Where Lunch Can Take All Afternoon
25-02-06 Seleccionado por: Ali Pebre
by Richard Vines
The words ``quick'' and ``meal'' don't sit easily together at Club Gascon, where lunch can take most of the afternoon and it's worth it.
This restaurant, next to Smithfield meat market, is French not only in cuisine but in style and attitude. Where other French restaurants in London may seek to turn over tables in two hours, at Club Gascon, the pace is as Gallic as the staff and the wines.
Club Gascon specializes in tapas-sized dishes of southwestern French food, with about 50 percent of customers opting for a five-course tasting menu that changes each month, using seasonal ingredients, according to the chef-proprietor, Pascal Aussignac, 48. He is a native of Toulouse.
The menu costs 39 pounds ($68), or 60 pounds with matching wines, not unreasonable for a restaurant with a Michelin star. The quality of the food is such that I've been there two months in a row, and would happily become a regular if I weren't in a job that's a gourmet version of ``Super Size Me.''
Club Gascon opened in September 1998 and has developed a loyal following, though the service has garnered complaints over the years. One friend who was reviewing the place in 1999 says he spent most of his meal in dispute with a waiter, who then followed him down the street, accusing him of stealing the menu.
Even I, as a fan, was irritated by a waiter last Friday who routinely took a short-cut behind my chair, knocking it as he passed. Fortunately, I was in less of a hurry than he was and when the food is so good, a bit of attitude is all right.
After an amuse gueule of mackerel in fennel sauce, this month's menu starts with oyster-and-bream tartare, with watercress pulp and chestnuts. The fines de claires oysters are chopped with gilthead bream and mixed with olive oil and chopped chervil. The chestnuts are smoked and served as an emulsion.
The dish is matched with Montravel, Domaine du Gouyat 2004, a thin sauvignon blanc that was refreshing, if undistinguished.
Next is gateau landais aux truffes, a terrine of potatoes, truffle and foie gras that was a signature dish of the chef Jose Lampreia at La Maison Blanche, in Paris. (Lampreia died in 1991.) Foie gras features prominently at Club Gascon, and this terrine was lighter than it sounds, though just as rich.
It is paired with Coteaux du Languedoc, Chateau de la Negly ``Brise Marine'' 2004, a lemony white bursting with southern sun and more character and depth than the Montravel.
The third course is roast skate with Jerusalem artichokes sauteed with garlic and parsley and andouille, with combava citrus zest. The flavors are paired with Irouleguy, Domaine Mignaberry 2001, a robust red from the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Garlic and Cheese
Stronger flavors are evident in the next course, grilled Pyrenees milk-fed lamb, aligot pine flavor. Aligot, a dish from the Massif Central region of France, is made from potatoes, garlic and cantal cheese. Aussignac adds flavor and texture with chopped and sauteed lamb's brain, tongue and kidney. The richness of the cheese and the delicacy of the lamb are a great combination.
Club Gascon pairs this with Les Baux-de-Provence, Domaine Hauvette ``Mas Hauvette'' 1999, a grenache-based red with a lightness and subtlety that isn't an obvious match with the dish, though it worked for me. The winemaker, Dominique Hauvette is a lawyer as, I suspect, are many of Club Gascon's customers.
One of my guests said it's the kind of wine you'd take to the opera, whereas the Irouleguy is a wine you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alleyway. Yet he preferred the latter. No wonder the French sometimes find the British a little confused.
We finished with coconut fondant, with an intense chocolate sauce and ginger ice cream. This was a refreshing end to the meal, served with Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Domaine Coyeux 2002.
Lunch took more than 2-1/2 hours and was worth it. For those who can't get away from the office for that long, Club Gascon is worth a dinner reservation. While most of the daytime customers are men, it's more mixed in the evenings and not unduly corporate.
The decor is understated, with an enormous floral display the only sign of ostentation.
Away from the set menu, there are plenty of choices and the wine list is a joy, with a surprisingly reasonably priced range of southwestern French options. If the service at Club Gascon can sometimes lack warmth, the food and wine are hot.
The Bloomberg Questions
How much? 60 pounds a head, including wine.
Sound levels? Low.
Business meetings? Yes.
Date place? Yes.
Will I go back? Yes.
Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, London, EC1A 9DS. Tel. (44) (20) 7796-0600.
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