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Flawless food from a French master

FLASH back five years. I’m in the new Covent Garden Market with Alexis Gauthier, then the chef patron of Gallic jewel Roussillon, researching a feature. It’s 4AM and Gauthier is getting very excited indeed. Never mind the fact that it’s pitch black and freezing, even under the market’s neon lights – no, he has just seen and felt something to make his heart sing and his French voice take flight. “Look! Purple sprrrouting brrrrocoli!” he trills, genuinely thrilled to have found the very first of the season’s crop in such fine fettle.

That enthusiasm for vegetables saw Gauthier through years of inventive, often beautiful dishes at Michelin-starred Roussillon. Yes, he did meat as well as the next top French chef. But his heart clearly lay in edible plants.

Now ensconced in what was for years Richard Corrigan’s eponymous Lindsay House, Gauthier has finally got his name over the door and brought with him his wonderful, much-respected sommelier Roberto Della Pietra. To celebrate, he’s let his hair down with a menu that trumpets his imaginative approach to cuisine from top to bottom, made all the more thrilling by being served up in this creaky Georgian townhouse.

There is a tasting menu, naturellement. But more magnetic is the a la carte, which combines uproarious modern European food with sheer excess. Yet five plates, including dessert, costs an almost unbelievably reasonable £45 – we banqueted for four hours on cinq plats.

For the premier plat, it had to be the “green” asparagus – the spiritual sister of the purple broccoli. This came with lovage, crispy Serrano ham and some meat jus – lovely. Elsewhere: broad beans and thyme with olive oil tart and quail eggs, and young spring veggies with parmesan veloute and sweet cured bacon. A perfectly judged symphony of summer.

Next up, who could resist scallops and brown butter with sautéed green chard and jerez
vinegar? Not me, certainly, and I was repaid with all the melting luxury the dish’s name suggests – large, silky scallops whose oozing buttery richness was checked by the uprightness of the chard and the vinegar.

To be true to the spirit of Gauthier, for the troisieme plat I probably should have gone for the langoustines and purple basil with young “arrrtichokes”. But I had turbot, with bacon and broad beans, served in a little pan and quite delicious – it was the perfect balance between meaty savour, fishy lightness and the fibrous punch of plant-life at which Gauthier so excels.

Le quatrieme rolled round, and we had sweetbread and morels – so light it was like eating something between pork fat and a cloud – and Angus beef and black olives with bone marrow potatoes and swiss chard. The beef was sliced and red in all the right places, awash in an overwhelming, almost gamey sauce, while even the potatoes made an impact with their marrow lining. Great idea, that, marrow potatoes.

Gauthier gets whackier and whackier with his desserts. Take something called the Louis XV, a little pat of mousse on a honeycomb base, covered in chocolate and decorated with gold leaf. It tasted, as my friend put it, like a posh Wagon Wheel. I had the duck egg soufflé with chocolate soldiers, which arrived in an actual egg shell and tasted a bit odd. But for effect, full marks.

Mostly, though, effect and substance met in gastronomic heaven. This is one of the best restaurants in town just now – and certainly a good place to try purple sprouting broccoli, and other seasonal veg, if you haven’t already.