Gauthier: French tradition with modern touches

Bare wooden tables. Ingredients that have been pickled or fermented. Rough-hewn bowls with the colour of porridge.

These are the current cliches of high-end dining, that has embraced a less formal style which, to be honest, I welcome.
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But sometimes crisp white table-cloths and food with its roots sunk deep in the classic French tradition provide a welcome change.
Step forward Gauthier, a Michelin-starred restaurant situated in a Regency townhouse in the heart of London’s Soho.

The decor

Ring the door bell of the white-fronted building that lies behind black railings and you’ll be ushered into a restaurant not quite like any other that I know.
The space is cramped and there’s an air of rickety elegance about the place.
Tables are smartly and correctly set and – surprisingly for so small a space – the dining room is light and airy.
Venture upstairs to the lavatory and you enter yet another world – one where the lights are red, the air is scented, the photographs on the wall would do justice to a Jean-Paul Gaultier ad and disco music pumps out from the sound system.

The service

This is an remarkably welcoming restaurant. Staff are friendly and informed and, by and large, efficient.
A couple of glitches were happily overlooked because of the place’s sense of hospitality.

The food

Alexis Gauthier is a chef who seamlessly fuses the lightness of contemporary cooking with the techniques of classic French cuisine.
His sauces and broths are especially fine, showing extraordinary poise.
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Thin spears of wild violet asparagus came with punchy morels and crunchy chicken skin in a chicken broth of great balance and depth.
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Afterwards came tortellini of vivid greenness with chard, spinach and lovage in a vegetable broth that was gentler but lacked no flavour.
The pasta itself was silky, soft and flavoursome.
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But here comes a gripe – the Scottish rainbow trout that emerged next from the kitchen had been cooked sous vide, I think, and therefore had that slightly gelatinous texture I despise in fish cooked by this method.
But its partners – sorel, beetroot, broccoli and a refreshingly sharp sorel velouté – were top-notch.
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A plate of perfectly-cooked pork and other piggy bits came next and was accompanied in a sticky gravy of such umami depth that my fingers found their way from the plate to my mouth.
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A pre-desert of panna cotta and strawberries then an extraordinarily refined and zippy citrus tart brought a well-balanced and well-crafted meal to an end.

Need to know

Eat a la carte for between £45 and £65 depending on the number of courses.
A two-course lunch costs £18.
The number of calories in each dish is given on the menu.

Gauthier Soho
21 Romilly Street, Soho, London WD1 5AF. 0207 494 3111.
www.gauthiersoho.co.uk

An idea for afterwards

Pop two minutes round the corner into Dean Street and enjoy a glass of red wine, bottle of Breton cider or bottle of Meteor at The French House, a great old pub with a wonderful atmosphere whose previous customers have included Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Brendan Behan, Augustus John and Charles de Gaulle.
Fergus Henderson used to run its doing room until he left to launch St John.
www.frenchhousesoho.com