Koffmann’s: Exquisite yet comforting Gascon style food by the old master

As far as living legends in the culinary world go, Pierre Koffmann is one of those iconic chefs who has certainly left his mark in Britain. The man already had 3 Michelin-stars under his belt at the legendary La Tante Claire before I was even born. From there, he’s gone on from strength to strength, mentoring some of the country’s finest chefs from Gordon Ramsay to Tom Aikens… Marco Pierre-White to Tom Kitchin. Such is his culinary influence, even his protégés themselves have since gone on to amass more than 20 Michelin stars in their own right.

Despite being in his 60s now, Koffmann isn’t one to just put his feet up and hang up his chef’s whites. After a few years out of the scene, he came out of retirement to the surprise of many and stormed the London food scene, first with his hugely successful pop-up venture at Selfridges in 2009. Shortly after, there was the opening of the highly-acclaimed, eponymous Koffmann’s which launched at the Berkeley (ironically, in the opposite wing to the premises La Tante Claire once occupied at the hotel prior to it’s closure).

Koffmann’s @ The Berkeley Hotel

It’s back to basics here at Koffmann’s and the comforting, bistro-style food of Gascony the French-born chef once grew up with. The 2-tiered dining space here that spans from the street level doorfront down to a more expansive basement area is elegant yet laid back – shelves of cookery books and splashes of colour from the freshly cut wild flowers and hot red napkin holders successfully packing some life and chic into what would have otherwise been a rather sterile hotel restaurant.

Having booked ourselves onto Bookatable’s 3-course Star Deal (a great value £32 / person, inclusive of a Bellini), we stuck to the dishes on the Prix Fixe menu. I must say though, despite there being plenty of choices to keep us interested (I counted 4 per course), it was hard to ignore the draw of Koffmann’s signature Pig’s Trotters oinking away at us from the A la Carte section (they should so put it on the Prix Fixe with a supplement!). Definitely one to bear in mind for a return visit.

Bread Basket

Before I even get to the starters, there’s one thing that’s worthy of a proper shout-out… the BREAD. And boy is there somebody in the Koffmann’s pastry kitchen that knows how to bake. Rosemary… Black Olive…Wholemeal… French Baguette… this was some of the most fragrant, hearty bread rolls I’ve had in the longest time. If the starters hadn’t come out so promptly, we probably would have stuffed ourselves silly on bread and butter alone.

Left: Rocket Soup with Poached Egg & Croutons, Right: Marinated Salmon with cucumber, fennel & herbs

Onto the starters then. First up, marinated Salmon, served with pickled fennel, wild herbs and a cooling cucumber jelly. Although the flavours were fresh and crisp, I thought the dish on the whole was a bit too tame to really wow anybody.

The Rocket soup, which sported the deepest of dark greens was bolder in its approach. Served with a perfectly poached egg on top which helped to thicken the soup naturally as the yolk broke, it was comforting yet nourishing at the same time. Despite the simple, humble ingredients, it was chock-a-block full of herby, peppery goodness.

Braised Pork Cheeks with Polenta & Baby Carrots

The main courses however was where Koffmann’s rustic yet exquisitely executed Gascon-style dishes really come into their own. The Pig’s Cheeks were the stand-out dish of the meal. Served with buttery baby carrots and a wonderfully smooth polenta mash, it had been slow-braised for hours and hours to melt-in-the-mouth perfection – so tender you could literally break the meat apart with a spoon. As the pork dissolved away on the palate, it was bomb after bomb of carnivorous, citrusy flavours. A real belter of a dish.

Duck Leg Provencal-style

Provençal-style Duck, served with Ratatouille and Pasta was the sort of humble, ‘give-me-a-hug’ type of food that brought a smile to the face. The Duck Leg was moist and extremely meaty whilst the sweet, tangy tomato-based flavours of the Provençal sauce balanced the richness of the duck beautifully. Each bite is guaranteed to bring flashbacks of every hearty French bistro meal you’ve ever had.

The complimentary side dishes which came with the mains were a particularly nice touch. In a world where we increasingly find ourselves paying upwards of £4 for a side of greens or chips, it was great to see every table provided with a generous, newspaper cone of their delectable, just-fried frites and a motherly bowl of cauliflower to count against your five a day.

Charentais Melon with Lemon Sorbet & Meringue

A textbook Panna Cotta and their Charentais Melon dessert, the latter cut into perfectly spherical marbles and topped with Meringue and a creamy Lemon Sorbet brought proceedings to a very happy end. What was arguably even more enjoyable than the desserts themselves were the freshly baked, petite Madeleines which came with my macchiato. I suspect the deft hand behind the fantastic bread selection at the start was also responsible for these moist, buttery, bite-sized shells of gold.

Left: Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries, Right: Freshly Baked Madeleines

A comforting, triumphant meal on the whole, accompanied by warm, top-draw service by a slick front-of-house team. And with the amazing value you get from the Koffmann’s Star Deal, it’s a Champagne lunch that won’t break the bank. Yes the food may be a tad old-fashioned and overwhelmingly French for some….but when it’s cooked to this sort of standard and with this much tender-loving care by an old master who has achieved every culinary accolade there is to achieve, it’s still well worth a visit.

G.

The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL | www.the-berkeley.co.uk | Sat 4th Aug 2012

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