Waiting for Gauthier
When I book a 9pm table at what is supposedly a 1 Michelin star establishment, I expect to have a table waiting for us at 9pm. NOT to be sent back outside into the rain and told to come back at 915 because our table wasn’t ready and they didn’t have anywhere for us to perch. And when we did come back 15 minutes later as told, we ended up having to stand around for 45 minutes in the narrow Georgian hallway of what was formerly Lindsay House – dodging exiting customers and stuck in the calamity of waiting staff running into one another on a busy Friday dinner service. A couple glasses of complimentary bubbly helped to soften the blow, but it was past 10 pm when we were finally led to our table and nearly 1015 pm when we were asked to ‘reconfirm’ that we were having their 9 course tasting menu (which mind you, I had already specifically pre-booked through Timeout on a 2-for-1 deal). *Sigh*….NOT ON. Starving and little irate by now, you would have thought they would have the common sense and decency to confirm this while we were standing downstairs for an hour as opposed to prolonging our wait further.
This was my 2nd time at Gauthier Soho. And though the food didn’t blow my socks off first time round when I was here with a large group for a friend’s birthday do, I thought the intimate charm of the place warranted a revisit for a Friday night dinner date with the better half. The canapes they served while we waited though were disappointing to say the least. Smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese was unmemorable and overly salty. Mini-beetroot macarons, though very pretty, were far too sweet to start a meal off with.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the first of our 9 courses arrived at 1030 pm, with courses 2-4 thankfully in quick succession after that.
In fairness, Alexis Gauthier and team are cooking up some fantastic French fare at Gauthier Soho. The Foie Gras Royale was an inventive, mind-boggling creation of ice-cold Cherry Port granite and hot Foie Gras which had a texture akin to steamed Chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard). The Scallop and Seabass dishes were clinically executed with creative, well-balanced flavours from the red pepper marmalade and delicious lemon-squid ink dressing. The best dish of the evening though had to be the Summer Truffle Risotto. The Arborio rice had that perfect al dente bite… the bold savoury Rotisserie jus complementing the earthy goodness from the generous shavings of summer truffle… a beautiful dish. With the first few courses so consistently good, we almost started to forgive them for the painful wait of earlier…
That was until we were left twiddling our thumbs for more than 20 minutes for our Piglet to arrive. And though there was absolutely nothing wrong with the crisp, fatty oriental style suckling pig which showed up, it was fast approaching midnight by now and we were starting to get a little tired and frustrated with the draggy intermittence of the dinner service to really enjoy the food.
Our frustration started to boil over when we were left waiting around for another 30 minutes for our Cheese course to show up. In fact the accompanying bread basket arrived immediately after we finished our Piglet course, but we were left just admiring the bread with nothing to eat it with. How long can it take to put 3 blobs of cheese on a plate with a few splotches of quince jelly when its part of a predictable, pre-ordered degustation menu?!? Un-firetrucking-believable…
By now, with desserts and petit fours still to go, we were the last ones in the dining room (even some of the waiters were starting to say their byes to their colleagues). After complaining that the wait was getting unbearable, we were told our desserts were on their way but would need another 10-15 minutes. So there we found ourselves at 1245 AM in the morning, savouring a quite brilliant White Peach Souffle that was air-light, luscious and sublime with the icy Champagne sorbet it came with… all while trying to keep our eyes open. *Yawn-yumm*. Exhausted, frustrated, and not wanting to spend the night there, we skipped petit fours and got the bill.
Maybe the long wait was a side-effect of sitting on the top floor and food needing to travel 3 floors up their narrow staircase to reach us. But I thought service on the whole could have more polished in any case. We found ourselves needing to ask for more bread to kill the time and had to constantly remind the waiters to top up our empty water glasses. I get the feeling had we not voiced our frustrations, we would have been having our dessert courses well past 1am in the morning.
This was hands-down the draggiest tasting menu I’ve ever had to sit though. It’s such a shame though, because the food is actually very decent. Had it not been, we probably would have walked out far earlier. At least damage only worked out to £50 a head, buffered by the superb value Timeout 2-for-1 deal. The kitchen needs to get the food out quicker though or we’re never going to consider coming back.
21 Romilly Street London W1D 5AF | www.gauthiersoho.co.uk | ingested Friday 12th Aug 2011