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Monday 17 November 2014

Brasserie Chavot Revisited and a To-Die-For Cassoulet!

Words & photography by Marina Benjamin and Luiz Hara

Name: Brasserie Chavot

Where: Conduit Street, London W1S 2YF, http://www.brasseriechavot.com/

Cost: Nibbles, such as olives, nuts or freshly baked bread, are priced at £2.50 and aperitifs at £5.00. Starters range from £9.50-£13.50, mains from £17.50 to £26.00, sides £4-5.50, and desserts from £7.50-£9.00. Cheese is sold at £4.50 per gout, and served with a chewy slice of walnut bread.

About: Eric Chavot’s latest London venture is next door to the Westbury Hotel, where we began our evening. The Westbury’s Polo Bar has a grand ocean-liner type of elegance complete with plush carpet, blue velvet chairs and Swarovski crystal-beaded curtains. We enjoyed our cocktails there then progressed to Brasserie Chavot’s chandelier-hung and many-mirrored room.

Our second visit to Brasserie Chavot, (previously reviewed here in 2013), the restaurant describes itself as a Brasserie. It is relaxed and unstuffy as a brasserie should be, but the food is more refined. I suspect the appellation is meant to celebrate Chavot’s style – hearty, traditional, home-cooking – rather than substance of his food, which is sophisticated.  

The opulent dining room is a treat to eat in; lamp light flickers in gilded mirrors, the chandeliers glint. Even the floor has not been neglected - it is tiled with an intricate mosaic of tiny ceramic tiles in earthy shades.

While we decided what to eat, everything being tempting, we enjoyed a glass of excellent Ruinart Champagne (£19.50).

What We Ate: We opted for a mix of classic and modern French starters. The steak tartare (£11.00) arrived in a deep scoop of a bowl. It was well seasoned, the meat bejeweled with slivers of capers and parsley, the egg yolk adding just the right amount of creamy richness. It was served with delicious griddled sour dough, creating a sparky match of crunch and cream.

Our other starter was deep fried soft-shell crab with a whipped aïoli (£12.50) that had a distinct saffron kick. It was posh comfort food, yummy and moreish -  a Chavot signature dish and well worth trying.

The wine parings were well matched, sold by the glass and described only by three descriptors meant to conjure taste and smell. Wine number one, a cheeky red number was described as “hubba bubba gum, red fruit candy, raspberry” (it turned out to be a delicious spice and berry scented 2011 Moulin à Vent). The white was fresh and minerally, the words used to describe it on the menu were ‘grapefruit, white pepper, crushed stones’ (It was a Muscadet ‘Geniss’).

With the edge off my hunger, I took the time to look around the dining room. There was a pleasing lack of suited businessmen, and a preponderance of soft-spoken tourists – it was warm without being loud.

As we waited for our main courses to arrive M.Chavot treated us to a surprise course, a pan-fried filet of bream, served atop a tumble of warm nicoise-style salad, made with shaved fennel, cubed potato, black olive and tomato. A beautifully-judged dish, it balanced acid and sweet just so, and we fell upon it greedily.

If I were eating at home, I’d have stopped there, pleasantly near-full, with perhaps room for a few mouthfuls of this or that. But the main courses were so delicious we managed them without any protest. For traditionalists, the cassoulet de canard et cochon (£22.00) cannot be beaten. Although it was not traditional in the strict sense of the word: the sausage was not Toulouse, the pig replaced goose, and instead of the garlicky crumb, there was a lip-smackingly good giant crouton smeared with a bright slick of parsley and garlic pesto. The duck confit was rich and melting, the pig belly chewy and flavourful, and instead of white haricot beans, the meat lay on fat, flavoursome butter beans, slow-stewed with tomato.

The modern main was a canette (apparently much more tender than the male canard), its skin sticky with cherry reduction that had caramelized on the griddle, the meat succulent and almost gamey ( £21.50).  This was served with two elongated tubes of the lightest homemade macaroni, delicately sauced in a bechamel made with gruyere, parmesan, and a hint (just right) of truffle. This was exquisite, and surprisingly light. If only I could have somehow acquired an extra stomach, I could have tried the lamb.

To follow on from the rich and oaky Californian Chardonnay we sipped with our bream (Kendall-Jackson, 2013, £39), we tasted a Uragunan Bodegones, tannin rich and not so sweet as to overpower the cherried duck, (£42), and deep, iron- rich Hungarian Bolyki, a delicious blend drunk in the middle-ages by Turks who dubbed it  ‘bull’s blood’ (£48).

In some ways the desserts were the least of the feast. We ate a delectable baba au rhum,  served with a flavourful pressed pineapple, and a deconstructed lemon tart, with excellent pastry, but the soft piped meringue was texturally hard to distinguish from tart lemon curd.

The hospitable sommelier, Andreas Rosendal, is not just knowledgeable, but playful. He enjoys discovering wines from unlikely places (there’s a Syrian wine on the menu), and trying them out on diners. We enjoyed some truly delicious desert wines; a late harvest Juracon (£7.50), which was aromatic without being cloying, and Pineau de Charantes (£10), complex and grapey. But the star turn was a Uruguayan Alycone (£10), spicy with chocolate, but with vanilla and caramel hits.  

Likes: the luxurious dining room, and the to-die-for cassoulet.

Dislikes: feeling a bit too full to walk home, but it was entirely my own doing. What’s more I’d do it again.

Verdict: For hearty yet sophisticated French fair in London, Brasserie Chavot is among my favourite places in London. The cassoulet warrants a visit in its own right. Highly recommended.

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