Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Restaurant Review: Koffmann's

La Tante Clair was reputedly one of the very best restaurants London has ever seen.  It won three Michelin  stars and a plethora of Britain' most talented cooks trained in its kitchens.  Sadly I never ate there before it closed in 2002.  However, after a succesful and much talked about time cooking at a pop-up restaurant in Selfridges roof garden in the Summer of 2009 Pierre Koffmann decided to return to the professional kitchen and London full-time.  Due to a fortunate coming together of circumstances and things needed to be celebrated I had a reason, after many months, to book a table at Koffmann's in the Berkely and it now sits near the top of my list for places to return for special occassions.

It's not just the food, which was superb, it's the detail of everything.  The room, which some commented on opeing was a little boring, is a very well used space indeed.  Yes the photos of pans and things that line the wall are a little bit like decorative muzak and there's quite a lot of greyish beige.  However, the restaurant is lively, but with the sound dampened enough by soft surfaces to not make sure that doesn't turn into noisy.  It's bright and airy despite having no windows and though you can see a great many people you don't feel watched.  The service is similar.  Choosing not to be so unobtursive as to leave themselves unnoticed and you believing your glass was filled by magic they take a much more active role in the experience.  They smile and seem interested in your order, the wine recommendations are excellent, and they were all incredibly warm and friendly, something La Tante Clair was famous for.  They are all skilled professionals but the atmosphere is almost that of a family establishment in the best possible sense.  And then there's the food.

The idea of a family establishment keeps going here as well.  Every dish is an example of classic french -almost-bistro style- cooking that made me want to eat everything on the menu.  Unlike most humbler (and cheaper) restaurants serving this food every detail reaches the kind of perfect standard you would hope from a three-starred chef.  On the other-side of the table the simply named foi-gras with baguette was tucked into with vigour, though thankfully I was allowed a couple of bites.  Rather than serving the foi alongside a sweet chutney there was an aspic jelly on top of the pate, attractively served in its own jar. This had just enough tart pickled flavour alonside the sweetness to offset the liver.  It also had a wonderful nuance of its own that added complexity to this rich dish.  By serving it on top in this way it also kept the balance just right throughout.  My own starter of seared scallops with squids ink was excellent.  The scallops just set, with a beautiful salty caramelisation on the outside where gloriously sweet.  They mixture of cauliflower puree alonside dark squid ink lent some neccesary earthiness and there was just a hint of acidity in the small amount of red pepper puree.  Needless to say it looked beautiful.

Mains were not equally as good, but far better.  The dish of sweetbreads and kidneys opposite seemed to lack a little something until I was allowed to try them with the mushrooms they had come mixed with.  They were good before, but this extra flavour element made the dish make sense in a whole new way, with each flavour balanced just right.  The gravy was thick and rich and the soft exceptionally bad for atteries mash worked beautifully with the bite of the kidneys.  I plumped for the dish that Koffman is probably most famous for, the pig's trotter stuffed with sweetbreads and morels, which elicited a knowing smile from our waiter and an exclamation of 'Ah le-trotter, very good'.  The trotter had been soaked in armangac prior to cooking and this had also been made into a sweet gravy that added richness and character to an already powerful centre piece.  There's not much I can say about this dish that hasn't been said.  It's a triumph, it's what I imagine a sausage would be like in heaven, the loose delicious filling surrounded by wonderful sweet and meaty gelatinous skin and the occasional fleck of pork meat.  Absolutely fantastic.  I'm sure it will remain high in my list for dish of the year.  Alongside this were some unneccesary, but good frites served in newspaper and some excellent carrots in butter, sugar and orange.  For pudding we had the excellent pistachio souffle, very good indeed.  The scoop of pistachio ice-cream dropped in less for flavour than to thoughfully cool the hot centre and keep the souffle moist even as it started to fall and dry.  Clever, attention to detail, seamless - absolutely the things that hit you about the cooking here.  It's carried off so artfully, however, that you barely notice and still feel like your eating the kind of food some fabled French grandmother used to make.

The thing is it's not just the main events here that are great.  Someone talked about madelin's and Proust in their revue.  Rather pretentious I thought and still think, but they have a point.  They were amazing.  The attentio to detail is everywhere.  The bread for instance was absolutely delicious and the butter was served at exactly the right softness.  Small things I know, but there are so many little touches like them that the whole experience becomes lifted and magnified by them.  This coupled with the warmth and style of the service and the excited, busy chatter around you combines to create a really special place.

Price: 3 Courses for 2 with no wine £125

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