By Guy Dimond
After too long an absence, smart French food is back en vogue. Balthazar in Covent Garden kicked off this season’s revival with a Yankee high-five to the brasserie – but Chavot ups the ante.
‘Larousse Gastronomique’ – the standard reference book for classic French cooking – states that ‘the distinction of all brasseries is that they serve a limited menu at any time of the day’. Which Brasserie Chavot doesn’t. But we’ll forgive chef Eric Chavot the misleading moniker, as the intention is clearly to convey informality when compared to his previous haute cuisine restaurants. At The Capital, he held two Michelin stars; I don’t think he was awarded those for cooking omelettes or serving fruit scones.
Yet Brasserie Chavot is still no casual, shuffle-in-late- wearing-your-onesie sort of place. The dining room is almost sepulchral in its formality, with smiling but no-nonsense service. The first time I visited, I tried to pop into the bar just for a look-see, but I was turned away because I didn’t have a dinner reservation.
Eric Chavot is now using his haute cuisine training to refine French peasant dishes for these cost-sensitive times. A main course daube of beef was a tower of rosbif, slow-cooked to the firmness of a Ukip handshake, but with a depth of flavour that would make any Frenchman pine for grand-mère’s cooking. Slightly fancier was the duckling à l’orange, rescued from what could have been a 1970s sickly-sweet orange sauce by savoury pink meat and the slightly bitter contrast of caramelised endives.
Not every dish wowed us. A Mont Blanc dessert resembled a trifle-like sludge in its glass bowl, more like a postmodern protest about global warming than a proud Alpine peak. And the snails Bourguignon were not improved by the addition of a fashionable espuma (foam) of potato, which merely concealed the earthy aroma of the little blighters. Other dishes impressed with their precision, though: a starter of sardine escabèche combined pert and perfectly prepared fish with slightly sour, but succulently pickled vegetables cutting through the oiliness of the fish.
Brasserie Chavot is a smart, special-occasion French restaurant with appealing dishes by a great chef. But it needs to unbutton its collar just a little bit – or maybe lose that ‘B’ word.