In a small townhouse quietly located in the heart of Soho, a Gallic restaurant run by Alexis Gauthier, formerly of Pimlico’s celebrated Roussillon – on our early-days visit, there was no sign that the magic had transferred.
Chef from well-known and long-established ‘hidden gem’ restaurant (Rousillon) sets up on his own in cute West End townhouse (once associated with Richard Corrigan), to offer a refined Gallic formula at reasonable prices. What could possibly not be to like about this Soho newcomer?
Oh dear. We so much wanted – and expected – to like Alexis Gauthier’s new restaurant. But we just didn’t. That’s no reflection at all on the hard-working staff (many also ex-Roussillon), who are invariably charming. But there’s no getting away from it: the sentiments the place inspired were ultimately of total indifference.
First problem is the setting. A ring-to-enter townhouse just off Soho’s throbbing main drag sounds a dream location, but the reality is that each of the individual floors, tastefully but somewhat blandly decorated, is very small. The entry level consisted of four tables, leaving everyone hostage to the loudly expressed views of humourless bores and, indeed, one such was present on the night of our visit. (Lest there be any doubt, we exclude ourselves from that reckoning.)
The second problem is the food, which may well be a function of the setting: the best food, an eminent restaurateur-turned-critic once confided to us, never comes out of basement kitchens. (Think Ritz!)
Perhaps that’s why the overwhelming impression of the dishes we sampled was blandness. Some of this may have been a function of simple under-seasoning, but this is a restaurant which will live or die by its food, and only two of the seven dishes we sampled – herb-crusted halibut with ginger, and lamb with asparagus – raised more than a flicker of interest.
This is all the less forgivable when Gauthier has imposed on himself a worst-of-all-worlds formula for modern dining. Dishes are offered in fashionable ‘tasting’ portions (albeit fairly large ones), but not – Ã la maze, say – on an informal ‘as it comes’ basis. Rather they come in traditional, sequential mode, with Michelin-pleasing pomp each time. (Even, hilariously, sometimes with cloches, though perhaps understandable given the set-up.)
The result of this approach is obvious: attention is focussed remorselessly on each dish in turn, and if it does not live up to expectations there is nowhere for the kitchen to hide. And, if you have a bore on the next table, nowhere for the customer either.