NOSTALGIA is a wonderful thing. When it was announced that Pierre Koffman would come out of retirement to run a restaurant on the roof of Selfridges for one week only, the phones rang off the hook with former customers who remembered his Chelsea restaurant Tante Claire, which closed several years ago.
But the crowd wasn’t just made up of greyheads looking for a Proust-like mouthful that would remind them of the good old days. (Well, the eighties.) Today’s young food-lovers, who were perhaps just onto solids when he was churning out his three Michelin-starred take on French peasant food, have also been trotting along to taste just what fine dining used to mean.
This restaurant, a pop-up located in a tent on the roof of a department store where the chefs cook on a mobile catering kitchen, has been the biggest food event of the year in London. The reason is that Koffman is as revered among chefs as the Roux brothers. The likes of Marco Pierre White, Tom Kitchin and Tom Aiken passed through his kitchen. The great Gascon’s food is therefore part of the DNA of London’s fine dining scene.
Originally, this restaurant was only going to run for a week, but Koffman and his fellows chefs (Bruno Laboutin and Eric Chavot) are evidently enjoying shaking the old pans, and they are now going to continue until 27 November. Foodies have been salivating at the thought.
So much for the hype. Is the restaurant any good? Blimey, yes. The menu is short, but is tweaked daily. The day we went, the leek terrine was served with lightly smoked eel rather than the advertised langoustine, and it was just superb, the leeks with the merest hint of citrus. What made it special was the subtlety of the flavours, nothing overwhelmed anything else, and it was all beautifully balanced. Other starters included cocktail of Scottish lobster and avocado with a lemon jelly (the spoonful I tried was wonderful); fricasse of wild mushrooms and snails with bone marrow; and game pithivier with a jus Corse.
Mains include Challans duck roasted with herbs and spices; pave of wild seabass with artichoke barigoule; roasted rose veal cutlet with girolles and roasting juices and royale de lievre with buttered tagliatelle. They all sounded brilliant, but the choice was only made easier by the necessity of eating Koffman’s most famous dish, the the pig’s trotter with sweetbreads and morels. The word I was expecting to be using here was “gutsy”, but that wasn’t how it was at all.
Somehow, they managed to make a plate of pig’s foot light and complicated and bleached out the darker, piggier tones. This is still meaty, no question, but it’s not what you think of when you think of offal. We also went for the hare – the royale is in reality a faggot, and a brilliant one at that.
Desserts were, if anything, even better. I’m normally bored by sweet things, but these had far more than sheer sugar to them. Pistachio souffle was astonishingly good, and the ice-cream gave it a wonderful mix of hot and cold. The Gascon-style apple pie, with filo-like pastry was, I think, the best dessert I have ever eaten, the barky flavour of cinnamon coming though only after the third of fourth mouthful. Superb stuff.
Koffman has said that he wants to open a new restaurant, but it would be a brasserie rather than a fine-dining restaurant, which means that this might be your last chance to eat this food. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.