As the wonderful world of plant-based eating grows ever-more popular, it’s fascinating to see how traditionally trained chefs are exploring this new culinary frontier with a whole array of ingredients and techniques to explore. Which can only be a good thing – beneficial to our taste-buds as well as our bodies, and of course animals and the environment too.
Alexis Gauthier, head chef of Gauthier, has been in the UK press a few times recently, particularly the plant-based media after his appearance as guest judge on the latest series of Masterchef. A classically trained chef, he started exploring cooking with plants as far back as 1997 featuring a range of vegetarian, then vegan dishes. He currently has a multi-course tasting menu running alongside his ‘classic’ meat and fish menus. After becoming vegan himself, Gauthier announced last year that the restaurant would become fully vegan in the future. Which is quite something in the top restaurant market place.
Gauthier, the restaurant, is located in a quiet back street in Soho. The restaurant has previously held a Michelin star and it is ‘proper French’! So what’s it like? Having visited there at the end of last year I can summarise it in one word – outstanding.
It was truly special from the moment we arrived. For a start, I have never been to a restaurant where you have to ring the doorbell to gain entry! Greeted by the maitre’d, we entered into an old Regency townhouse with a long hallway with a number of doorways; these lead to the dining rooms with 4-5 tables in each. This creates a cosy, intimate feel although if there’s a loud group at the next table it’s hard to avoid hearing their conversation as there’s nothing to drown it out!
One of the things I loved about the experience was that asking for the vegan option was completely normal. In most restaurants I find we have to ask for a special menu, or question what can be altered to cater for our dairy-free, plant-based needs. At Gauthier, the vegan option is printed right next to the classic one on the menu, and no eyelids were batted by the (very) French waiters.
And what a menu it was! My mouth started to water as soon as I read through the six courses on offer. A wonderful mixture of flavours and textures awaited us, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
After our glass of bubbles, there was an additional starter of ‘faux gras’, a vegan version of fois gras made with lentils. Rich and tasty, it’s a definite change in direction from a restaurant that used to serve 20kg of fois gras a week!
Next came the celeriac velouté with chestnut parcel. It looked so small in it’s large bowl, but the flavours were incredible, bouncing off the tongue. This was followed by my second favourite dish of the menu, wild mushroom tortellini. Oh my goodness, what a taste sensation! Rich and deep, it tasted of dark, earthy forests nesting in an umami-packed (dairy-free) creamy sauce. Every bite was a delight – I ate it so slowly just to savour every mouthful!
The next dish, miso caramelised turnips and quince was my least favourite, but that more because I shouldn’t eat miso – it gives me a rotten headache! But having done a cost/benefit analysis of the menu I chose not to miss out (and the 2 day headache that followed was still worth it!). Texture-wise it was top notch, but it was outdone by the final savoury dish – open rainbow ravioli.
This was bound to be my favourite as you know how much I love rainbow eating! But it was more than the beautiful colourful strip of pasta that made the dish the best for me. Hidden underneath, there was an array of textures and flavours running from soft to crunchy that hit all the right spots. It was an utter delight, and although I was getting rather full by now (and I wasn’t even eating any of the bread that was handed round with each course), every single speck was eaten as it was just too good to leave.
Last but definitely not least we reached dessert – an incredibly dense, rich blackberry tart, thankfully small but still packed full of amazing flavour and texture. And as we were there celebrating my daughter’s 21st birthday, she was presented with a special one complete with candle (but no embarrassing singing, much to her relief!).
Even though it’s over 3 months since we visited, I still think about some of the delicious food we ate that day, as well as the whole experience of being served amazing, high-quality dishes that were prepared and served with the same care and detail as ‘normal’ fine-dining. And now we’re out of Winter and into Spring, there must be a new seasonal menu to explore. Who’s birthday can we celebrate this time……..?
To find out more about the menus at Gauthier, go to http://www.gauthiersoho.co.uk