On first impressions, Club Gascon – Smithfield’s longstanding temple to Gallic gorging – has much going for it. Our table might have been minuscule, but the setting was marvellous: all dusky indigo panelling, marble pillars, low, lusty lighting and staff so French as to be borderline indecipherable.
It was a shame, then, about the cooking. With the exception of the first amuse-bouche – a teeny, truffled cheese cracker – and a ‘prelude’ of foie gras, topped with caviar and served with pitch-black squid ink crackers, most dishes had at least one diabolical fault. A starter of grilled foie gras with woody pine mushrooms and razor clam was superficially delicious but one note in flavour. Another, of slow-cooked egg with plankton ‘pearls’, seaweed and matchsticks of chicory, was nausea-inducing: a salty, oddly tangy morass of slithery albumen and crispy vermicelli. Not for me – nor, I’d imagine, anyone else.
Veal sweetbreads were fine, cloud-light and delicate, but drowned out by a sweet-saline shellfish bisque and served, exasperatingly, on under-seasoned quinoa. A concession to the clean-eating brigade or a sick joke? God knows. A well-textured slab of turbot escabeche with winkles had zero vinegary zing and was dotted with little grey globules, which I think were the promised shellfish in mousse form, but were actively repellent, either way. How I wished for more of those crackers.
Being 20 years old and Michelin-starred (with prices to match), Club Gascon might have attained ‘classic’ status, but with St John, Luca and The Modern Pantry within walking distance, it seems masochistic to blow around £100 a head on dinner here, instead. Club Gascon is a nice-looking club, sure. It’s just not one that I could recommend joining.