Restaurant review: Brasserie Chavot, London

Date:12-06-2013 07:58:04 read:31

Restaurant review: Brasserie Chavot, London

Brassierie Chavot lacks some of the glitz of other London brasseries, but marvellous food makes it a cut above its competitors.

Brasserie Chavot
Brasserie Chavot: chef Eric Chavot is 'sensationally talented' Photo: Rii Schroer

If the look of courteous resignation on the face opposite was all too familiar, at least there was a novelty about the venue. For many years, this general physician has endured and pacified your critic’s raging hypochondria with a professionalism verging on saintliness, and even the unlikeliest question ever to be posed in Brasserie Chavot could not puncture that. Not quite.

“Hello, doctor,” I greeted him when he finally arrived at this Mayfair newbie, “have you brought the latex gloves?” “The gloves? Why on Earth would I… Ah, of course. And which life-threatening illness do you have for me today?” This page being particularly ill-suited to the public presentation of the salient symptoms, suffice it to record that a joint trip down to the basement Gents was not, he reassured me after a brief but thorough verbal examination, required.

In my defence, the doctor had gone that extra mile to replicate the surgery experience by turning up 40 minutes late due to a more genuine medical emergency than the one so delicately hinted at above. Any lingering hopes he had of forgetting the stresses of his work over lunch proved naive, though the only cast-iron diagnoses he offered concerned not the neurotic on the banquette opposite, but the restaurant. The flair that once saw him identify an episode of gastritis within 17 seconds did not desert him.

Ceviche of scallops, a typical dish at Brasserie Chavot (Pic: Rii Schroer)

A mini-avalanche of new brasseries has recently come to central London. This one, while it lacks the beauty of Balthazar and the glitz of Zédel, is the best of them for the childishly obvious reason that Eric Chavot is a sensationally talented chef. If the name is new to you, he is regarded within the trade as one of the giants after a long stint at the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge, where in a thickly carpeted room of stifling formality he produced exquisite food in the complex, classical French style. Michelin gave him two stars, though many thought he deserved the maximum of three.

That cuisine, and the oppressively attentive, dome-lifting style of service that went with it, have gone dramatically out of fashion in recent years. And so it is that we find Chavot, returned from a sojourn in the United States, leaping nimbly aboard the neo-brasserie bandwagon. The wine list is shorter and less scary than that at The Capital (we had glasses of a good New Zealand reisling), and a short, faux-peasanty menu features a mildly eclectic range of ingredients along with more traditional dishes.

Chavot’s one flaw is a room undone by a misjudgment for which, the good doctor opined (stretching the terms of his Hippocratic Oath, you’d think), “the designer should be shot”.

Chocolate pot de crème (Pic: Rii Schroer)

For a restaurant attached to a hotel, in this case The Westbury, this lacks the usual sense of a foyer or disused space being clinically monetised. The floor is the standard mosaic tiling, the high ceilings are grandly corniced, the high-backed banquettes and distressed mirrors lend a bit of grandeur, the acoustic is good and the room has a decent buzz. The problem is the quartet of brassy, cheap-looking chandeliers that run domineeringly down its centre. “It’s a slightly mixed metaphor with the decor,” observed the doctor, “but without the chandeliers it would be OK. They make it look like a cosmetics concession at Harrods.”

Having got that off his thoracic region, and without a care for the cholesterol, the doctor kicked off with deep-fried soft shell crab, served with a nod to ironic nationalistic wit on the pages of a French newspaper atop a wooden board, alongside a bowl of whipped aioli. “This is excellent,” he said. “The crab is crunchy and greaseless, and I love the intensity of the aioli with it.” I will not degrade the memory of my chicken liver parfait, accompanied by a luscious fig chutney, by giving it the stock epithet of velvety. Far smoother than that, it was a poignant reminder of a time when I could almost afford to feed our resident infestation of moths on finest cashmere – and it had the delicacy of flavour to match without being remotely effete.

In a dramatic cholesterol volte-face, the doctor then went for rump of venison with honey glazed vegetables, on the grounds that this sovereign of the red meats has no fat. “Perfectly cooked, nice and tender, lovely veg, big flavour. Beautiful.” I had the choucroute garnie, a dish to which I am drawn like a moth to a cardigan when on trips to northern France, but which I’ve never actually enjoyed due to the wincing sharpness of the sauerkraut and the relentlessness of the various sausages and fatty pork cuts. This version, served in its bespoke saucepan and suffused with a delectable winey, bay leafy stock, was incredibly potent and savoury without being remotely winceworthy or overpowering. I will be back for more of that, and for the puddings for which the doctor’s late arrival left no time.

Marco Pierre White once described Eric Chavot as simply “the best”, and his jettisoning of Michelin intricacy has the added benefit of making his work affordable. All the restaurant needs to make it really sparkle, as the doctor correctly diagnosed over coffee, is radical surgery on those chandeliers, with an electric chainsaw as proxy for the scalpel.

Brasserie Chavot (020 7183 6425), 41 Conduit St, London W1S 2YF. Three courses with wine and coffee: about £55 per head

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013