It was, without doubt, one of the best restaurant experiences I have ever had. If you want to know any more than that - read on!
Wanting to treat my girlfriend to something special on her birthday, and as big fans of Michel Roux Jr's approach to cooking, I decided to reserve a table for a Friday lunch at Le Gavroche several months in advance. As of early 2013 the restaurant implemented a policy of only taking reservations three months to the day in advance and as I had a whole weekend in London geared around this lunch I tried several different ways to secure a table five or so months ahead - none worked. Credit card concierge (which once got us into Noma at two week's notice), our hotel concierge, begging - nothing worked. The restaurant wouldn't budge - and, to be honest, this really began to annoy me as I all wanted to do was spend money there and know my weekend plans were sorted. So, at 8.50am GMT three months to the day of the booking I found myself making excuses to leave a work meeting abroad to spend around 15 or so minutes on hold to the now familiar booking phone line music and finally got through and got a table. Hurrah! A sense of achievement but surely it shouldn't have to be this difficult?!? To be fair, I level this criticism at them and to the other high-end restaurants who have the same policy. I imagine it's so waiting lists don't get too out of hand and people get deterred - a nice problem for a restaurant to have though.
Anyway, that was the one and only criticism I have of Le Gavroche. The rest was absolute perfection.
The atmosphere in the restaurant downstairs was really nice - it had a great buzz, one of being in an instiution, and despite every male diner wearing a jacket and tie (despite the latter not being officially required) it didn't feel stuffy at all thanks to the impeccable and friendly service.
We opted for the Business Lunch menu at £52 per head and were not only blown away by the sheer quality of the food, the presentation, the breads, the tableware etc but the price - £52 for a proper two-star experience including a very nice quality half-bottle of wine each, water, amuse bouche, coffee, we thought, was fantastic value for what we got. You can of course spend a lot, lot more on the tasting menus and the wine list.
I'd asked in advance for a tour of the kitchen, and after service and a small wait, this happened and it was fascinating to see just how compact the kitchen is! Michel Roux Jr wasn't there on that day - he is regularly though - but the reservations lady had, very kindly, arranged for Michel to sign a book with a personal message in advance of the day for me - thank you very much Heather.
Le Gavroche is a very special place and, unlike some other world-class restaurants where I feel like I have ticked a box by going to them, I will fondly look forward to returning there in the years to come.
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