I love a good brasserie. Particularly the ones of my mind, which play to the romantic idyll of how I envisage dining in France to be everywhere, all of the time.
In them, waiting staff in white shirts and black waistcoats glide around guests taking languorous lunches longer than the morning they spent in the office. The evenings host a convivial atmosphere with rotund diners wallowing in the digestive juices that follow rich French classics, lots of vin rouge and not quite enough l’eu du minerale.
There should be a lot of French gesticulating and arm throwing, along with great gorgeous bowls and plates piled high with all the things you would expect to find in a good brasserie. And let’s throw in a bit of Édith Piaf on the wireless for good measure.
We’re lucky to have some good brasseries in London. Bistrot Bruno Loubet I’m yet to try, but I hear good things. Brasserie Zedel ticks a lot of the above, although I suspect it’s the very splendid setting (typical to a Corbin and King enterprise) and the competitive double-take prices that draw in the clientele more than the food.
A great leap up from this and you’ll find Brasserie Chavot, a Mayfair restaurant only recently wandering into my London dining periphery, despite being open since March 2013 and gaining a Michelin star just a few months later.
The classic interiors are chic and elegant without feeling dated; how you might have expected Coco Chanel to design a commercial dining space if doing so were part of her repertoire. Glinting tear-drop chandeliers and intricate coving adorn the high ceilings. There’s red leather, dark wood, stately structural columns, and an open kitchen. The whole room is adjoined to the Westbury Hotel, whilst maintaining its own street entrance.
Eric Chavot – the gregarious Executive Chef with his name above the door – hails from Bordeaux in France. The back catalogue of his culinary career include stints with a host of highly acclaimed kitchens including Le Manoir au Quat’ Saisons, Michelin star-studded London-based solo ventures, and holding two stars as Head Chef of The Capital Restaurant for a laudable ten years.
He is a chef to the core, with unbridled passion for his craft. Eric revelled in the opportunity to cook a group of us some dishes off menu, landing heavily laden wooden boards and brimming steel pots at the centre of our tables with the flamboyant gesture of a showman proud of his work. And rightly so.
The heirloom tomato salad with Parmesan and pesto was as fragrant as it was a pure pleasure to eat. There was a zippy Strasbourgeoise salad with soft potatoes, the heat of mustard and slices of sausage, as well as a dish of flaking sea bream fillets with raita. Tender octopus with the last of the summer pea and broad bean bounty was especially wonderful with the glass of Portuguese Vinho Verde “Mica”. As was the acclaimed signature dish of deep fried soft shell crab with whipped aioli, the crisp and light white cutting through the fattiness of the crab; a continuation of the superb starter theme.
Then there was a fish soup with crab claws, octopus, olives, a deep burnt-orange bisque, hunks of chorizo with smoky heat, and saturated but still well textured crusts of bread. Lamb cutlets with Merguez sausages were unveiled from under the cone lid of a tagine, whilst tender pork and duck arrived with fat and creamy butter beans and exceptionally garlicky – and therefore fantastic – bread.
It all wrapped up with an impeccably boozy rum baba with chantilly cream, a lemon tart and Eric’s take on an Eton mess. And a glass of Pink Moscato; like drinking fizzy fresh raspberries.
“This one is only 5%” Head Sommelier, Andreas, informed us as he filled our flutes with a knowing smile. It takes one of experience to recognise that dessert for this lot requires a toned down alcohol content, considering the copious glasses of Torrontéz, Crozes-Hermitage and more that went before it.
The dishes seemed to taste elevated from what you would expect based on the look and descriptions alone, which meant a stream of coo-ing from one to the next. The whole meal – food, wine and service – was a series of small thrills, which together made for a fabulous experience. And despite some dishes often associated with the heaviness of rich French food and the onset of gout, there was a lightness running throughout.
Eric and his kitchen are turning out refined yet generous and hearty plates of French abundance that feel like a glimpse into what his mamma might have cooked him. It’s not prissy and doesn’t feel contrived, yet is set in impressive surroundings at a very reasonable price point for this part of town.
Despite the accolade, this isn’t typical Michelin fine-dining. That expression ‘cooked with love’ seems to fit here; there’s a side of Eric’s personality with every plate. And a combination like that in London feels quite special.
Liked lots: Eric’s showmanship and love for his trade, opulent interiors with accessible and beautiful food, appealing price point for this part of town
Liked less: I’ll get back to you..
Good for: impressing dining companions without the need to break the bank; French food that doesn’t require a digestion nap after
My rating: 4.5/5
Note: I was invited as a guest to this restaurant.