Frank was blown away by Brasserie Chavot’s rack of lamb. Amazed. I don’t know Frank, he just happened to be sitting next to me, polishing off his second meal there in two days. He said the duck was pretty good… But boy, that rack of lamb. I had to try it, he said.
A middle-aged couple at the table opposite had been here twice, too. And the group in the corner? They’d been in for lunch a couple of days ago. The place has only been open a week and I’m already an outsider amongst locals.
Brasserie Chavot is the latest venture by former two Michelin-starred chef Eric Chavot, who recently returned to the UK after a stint in Florida. The term “brasserie” makes Chavot’s new place sound less formal than it is: while it’s not full-on fine dining, I felt underdressed in jeans. It is housed in the quietly stunning space formerly known as The Gallery, which is best known for its vast mosaic floor (“It looks like it should be listed, doesn’t it?” Chavot says. “It’s actually only a couple of years old.”) Last time I was here, I was sitting a few seats down from Elton John at Richard James’ men’s fashion week show. Elton didn’t make an appearence this time but he probably will at some point, because Brasserie Chavot is rather good.
Our waiter vehemently recommended I start with the ceviche of scallops, which was a bit of a bum steer – it tasted mostly of lime. “The scallops are just texture, I can’t taste the flesh,” complained my guest. The steak tartare, though, was sublime, laced with capers and a generous helping of mustard; one of the best I’ve tasted, and I like a steak tartare. “Oh, yeah, it’s great,” Frank chipped in sagely. “But the lamb. My God, the lamb.”
When it came to it, though, I couldn’t resist the daube de boeuf and my guest fell in love with the venison. When the waiter arrived, sans lamb, Frank looked like he might cry. “I’m sure they’ll be good, too,” he said bitterly, through gritted teeth.
They were. Daube is traditionally made with inexpensive beef braised in wine, but there was nothing cheap about this. It was a plump wedge of meat, cooked for so long you only had to worry it with a fork for it to flake. The drizzle of stew was subtle enough to let the beef have your undivided attention, which is just as well: it was flawless. The venison was even better: tender, pink meat in a sweet honey glaze, with none of the over-powering, gamey taste you sometimes get with deer. Frank looked dubious: his father once shot a deer and brought it home, he recounted in a jaded American drawl. His mother, a terrible cook, broiled the poor creature mercilessly and the charred result tasted like a shoe. “That’s why I didn’t order the venison,” although, coincidentally, he did buy some shoes in Harrods (“And what, by the way, is going on with Diana and the seagull?”).
Both mains were served on heavy Staub dishes, which look rustic and keep your food nice and hot but are a bit of a pain to eat from.
The side of mashed potato tasted like it was visiting from mashed potato heaven, but that’s what you get when you make it with 50 per cent potato and 50 per cent butter. Eat too much of it and you’ll end up in human heaven.
For dessert I went for the rhubarb and lemon tart, which was decent, although the shards of white chocolate piercing it made it too sweet and I diligently picked them all off and left them in a pile at the side of my plate. My guest went for the crème brûlée, which I think is a bit of a cop-out. Crème brûlée is crème brûlée: beyond a certain point, it doesn’t really get any better. She disagreed. Apparently it was very nice, thank you very much, and why don’t you just leave me to enjoy it instead of whinging at me?
The sommelier fixed us up with an astonishingly good malbec, which, at £43 was very reasonable. In fact, the whole meal was remarkable value at £128. I’ve paid more at gastro pubs and eaten far inferior meals for three times the price.
After dessert, Chavot came out of the kitchen for a lap of the restaurant. He’s a character. He told me I have great eyebrows and should invest in some Chelsea boots. He said I should never shave my head because one day it might not grow back. He ordered us an extra dessert: a baba au rhum, which wasn’t as good as our first choices. Then he dropped a real bomb-shell: his kitchen doesn’t use any gas. Unlike the mosaic floor, the building really is listed, and the council insisted on electric. That’s like the Olympic relay runner who revealed he’d run half a race with a broken leg. I’ve used electric hobs for years and I still burn everything – he’s only been practicing a week.
Get down to Brasserie Chavot while you can: this place is going to be busy, especially considering it’s already attracting regulars. I might end up being one of them: I’ll have to come back, anyway. I hear the rack of lamb is to die for.
First published in City A.M.