Sunday, 18 October 2009

Pierre Koffmann - Restaurant on the roof.

This past week or so, there seems to have been just one subject on the lips of London foodies....Pierre Koffmann.

Koffmann is something of a legend in British restaurant history, working alongside the Roux brothers at the Waterside Inn in Bray, he went on to open his own restaurant 'La Tante Claire' in Chelsea (Restaurant Gordon Ramsay now occupies the site). One of a select few chef's to hold three Michelin stars, Koffmann's restaurant was 'the' place to dine in London. Along the way a whole crop of current Michelin starred chefs served their time in his kitchen, Tom Aikens, Eric Chavot and Tom Kitchin, to name just a few. Five years ago Koffmann closed La Tante Claire and appeared to have all but retired...

....Until, the silence was broken with the recent announcement that Koffmann would be opening a temporary restaurant on the roof of Selfridges, but only for ten days. He would, once again be cooking his same famous signature dishes as served in La Tante Claire, and a whole brigade of his Michelin starred former apprentices would be popping up as Guest Chef's.

Queue a maelstrom of hype erupting around the subject of the temporary restaurant erected on the roof of Selfridges and the legendary chef cooking there.

Personally, I put my chances of bagging a table up with the same odds of winning the lottery, but kept a weather eye out for developments. But what's this? The booking number being 'leaked' two days early? I was all over it, along with, so it seems every other food blogger in London. Amazingly I scored a table for two.....although, worryingly, I had no idea how much it was actually going to cost me.
I've been carried along on a growing tide of expectation and excitement ever since....Twitter has been a relentless hive of activity...... initial reviews have been dissected, the menu discussed, photos of the dishes studied, the service (or apparent lack of it) picked apart, the petit fours controversy has raged (Some people getting them, some inexplicably not)'s been a full time job keeping up with it.

Until finally, at last it was time to experience it myself.

Thursday evening finds me walking briskly down Oxford Street towards Selfridges. I am smartly suited, the GF in tow is looking suitably glamorous. We've had a couple of pre-meal Cocktails at the excellent Rules and Hix's new restaurant in Soho, we're feeling pretty good and very excited. Entering through the main entrance, we turn left and are confronted with a private lift to the roof. A clipboard toting greeter checks our names off the list, and up we go.
The lift doors open into a mainly white walled corridor lined with intricate swirling patterns and floor to ceiling drapes. There's a real buzz about the place, I have no idea what to expect. A subtly lit corridor leads to a reception area where we are greeted by an extremely friendly woman who introduces herself as Pierre Koffmann's wife, Claire.

We are led up a small flight of stairs to another moodily lit reception area, a couple of sofa's, tables and chairs are already inhabited by fellow diners lounging and chatting, waiting for their table. A Cocktail bar stands against one wall - and to my right, up another small flight of stairs and through some elaborate wrought iron gates is the restaurant proper. I can hear that low hum of diners chatting, punctuated with laughter, the sound of people having a great time. Everyone looks relaxed happy and smiling, it's a very good sign. We order a bottle of wine, and sit there sipping, looking around, taking it all in.

A cheerful waitress approaches, our table is ready...we follow her up the stairs and catch sight of the restaurant for the first time. It's quite big. It's packed with diners, but the tables are spaced well apart. There are floor to ceiling windows overlooking Oxford Street to our left, the walls to our right are painted a duck egg blue, which incidentally I am told was the same colour of the walls in the long since closed 'La Tante Claire'. I notice unusual antler clad chandeliers, and other lighting, the shades made from top hats. At the very far end is a doorway, beyond which is the kitchen. It's hard to believe this is basically a large tent, a temporary space. It's incredible.

The service is fast and extremely friendly, chatty even, there's a real atmosphere of experiencing something out of the ordinary and it's obvious the vibe has rubbed off on the staff as well. We're informed that the guest chef's tonight will be Eric Chavot and Bruno Loubet and that "Between them and Pierre, there's at least 7 Michelin stars worth of chefs in the kitchen".

Looking at the menu, I read down the dishes and want to order's so hard to choose, at least with my starter. My main?, that was decided long ago.

Let's hold it there and talk about Pig's feet....

Koffmann's signature dish is famously a Pigs trotter stuffed with veal sweetbreads and morels. People rave about it, how could I order anything else? 'to trotter or not to trotter' being one of the recurring themes where Koffmann has been discussed on Twitter. By the way, Sweetbread, just in case you didn't know is the thymus gland (located in the throat). Mmmmmm. Don't know about you, but to me it sounds disgusting. I've never really been exposed to offal growing up, so a lot of it is quite alien to me. But, what the hell -I'll try anything once. So Pig's trotter it was to be.
For my 'pre-trotter' starter I went for the 'pan fried Foie Gras with a potato galette and sauternes jus'

But first, an amuse bouche of 'langoustine consomme with langoustine and scallop ravioli' this came in a tea-cup, and was very subtle....perhaps too much so, to be honest I wasn't bowled over with it finding the flavours murky and hard to clearly define. Don't get me wrong, it was tasty, I ate it all. But, it wasn't as good as I'd expect from a chef who held three Michelin stars - which, is quite possibly part of the problem, heightened expectation.

But, then my starter arrived and all was forgiven - silky, rich, beautifully cooked, the potato galette adding crisp texture to the beautiful buttery softness of the foie gras, the sauternes jus and a small dab of apple puree cutting through the richness. Beautiful, I was enraptured, eating stunned and making involuntary pathetic soft mewling noises. (For previous outbreaks of mewling - see here).

Opposite me, the GF was making similar noises as she ate her starter of 'hand dived scallops with squid ink'. An artistically presented dish, the perfectly cooked scallops sitting like fat luminous pearls in a rich, shiny slick of squid ink. I tried a proffered forkful and the scallops were every bit as good as they looked.

The famous pig trotter arrived next, glistening, obviously an all too identifiable piece of the pig it was quite daunting to look at. Partnered with an unusual pink mash (which we were told was due to the variety of potatoes used, 'highland burgundy'), I was undaunted and I was enjoying myself, so tucked in without hesitation....surprisingly soft and unctuous, meaty, was delicious, partnered with the mash a very filling plate.....I ploughed in loving every bite, I ate the lot, a small cairn of 'toe-bones' at the side of the plate commemorating the final resting place of the now departed trotter.

Meanwhile, across the table, the GF was eating her dish of 'Roast Cod with cepes' I had a quick taste, and it was very good, but to be honest - apart from briefly admiring the presentation I only had eye's for the trotter.

Whilst taking a breather before ordering dessert, Pierre Koffmann's delightful wife Claire stopped at our table to chat, asking how our meal was to generally play the part of an excellent host....I can think of many front of house staff who could learn a lot about how to treat their paying customers here, she knows how to work a restaurant that's for sure. Whilst chatting she asked what we were going to order for dessert, I replied that I was thinking about the pistachio souffle. She said that her husband always used to say at La Tante Claire, if the first table ordered the souffle - then everyone would order the souffle. Which made up my mind for me. The GF went for the 'Gascon apple tart'.

The souffle was as impressive as promised, perfectly towering and served with a scoop of pistachio ice cream that was deposited by the waitress at the table into the top. What can I say? once again, incredible stuff - perfectly light and sweet, surprisingly filling with an almost fleeting chocolate like, toasted quality. To say I was happy with it would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, the GF was not quite as enthralled with her apple tart, it looked amazing but she complained that the ratio of filling to 'dry' pastry wasn't quite what she expected.

Later, after coffee, and eating a beautiful selection of petit fours, we settled the bill, and made our way unsteadily back down the corridor to the lift, emerging in the now closed, dimly lit and silent Department store, met by the same clip boarded greeter from earlier, accompanied this time by a security guard. With a polite good evening, we walked out into late night Oxford Street the whole experience had an almost modern fairytale, movie like quality.

The food was excellent, the atmosphere fun and convivial, the service absolutely spot on - no complaints at all. Whatever issues there may have been with long waits between courses and missing petit fours etc at the beginning of the week were not apparent. I had a fantastic evening, departing full and extremely happy that I had perhaps one of the only chances I'll ever get to sample a legendary chef's food.

The price, £75 per head for two courses, with wine, coffees and service charge the meal came in at just over £200 for two. Expensive, yes. But worth every penny.


Boo said...

Wow - looks amazing Dan and a great write up, must have been a tricky one to write! That souffle looks divine, Claire's right, if I saw that I would have to order it, I'm a sucker for anything pistachio flavoured. I've hugely enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on Koffman at Selfridges (couldn't afford it myself this month unfortunately!)

The Ample Cook said...

Oooh Dan, what a wonderful experience.

I have this picture in my head of your GF dressed as Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'and you cutting a dash with slicked back Brilliantined hair and a silk hanky in your top pocket. Bet you floated home......

Kavey said...

I was sooo nervous, when I visited, for the first lunch sitting on the first day... and then really excited to be able to share my experiences, photos and thoughts with others, especially those who were to visit later in the week...
Since then, I've really enjoyed reading all the many blog posts and tweets and seeing how the experiences matched and differed from my own.
With all that chatter though, your wait must have seemed sooo long, so I'm really pleased to read that you had a great evening!

Dan said...

Boo - Thanks for the comment, it took me hours to write up! Bit of a hangover (who me?!)And once I started writing, was a bit hard to stop!
Shame you can't afford it at the moment.... but keep an eye on it. Rumour from the waitress was it's going to be extended again due to demand.
The other titbit was that Angela Hartnett is due to be a guest chef after eating there and offering her services.

Jan - hahaha nice image! close! It was a fantastic experience, really enjoyed it and would go again in instant if I could afford it - and I could get a table.

Kavey - Your right, seemed like a really long wait from your visit on Monday for lunch to my visit on Thursday evening. Thanks a lot for getting your post up so early, really helped a lot to read what the experience was like beforehand.

LexEat said...

Great post - sounds a brilliant experience! Soufflé looked divine!

TCake said...

glad that you enjoyed the evening Dan, I have some photo's of the restautant empty, as it's next to my office. Will let you know when I post them... rumour is right.. Angela Hartnett is 'guesting'.... there is more news bubbling.. will keep you updated.
fab post. Teresa

Hollow Legs said...

I've read so many Koffman posts that I feel like I visited myself. Great write-up.

gastrogeek said...

Nice review Dan, sounds like you had quite an experience.

Dan said...

Lex - Thanks. I was really impressed with the souffle - they're famously hard to get right, and this was a whopper.

Teresa - Thanks, be interested to see the photo's you have, and it's also interesting to hear that the Angela Hartnett rumour is correct. More news bubbling? I'm intrigued - keep me posted!

Lizzie - very true, there's been loads of Koffmann posts this week, unusual that so many food bloggers have hit the same restaurant in such a short space of time! Thanks.

Reg, Thanks - really enjoyed myself.

Marcus Shingler said...

Great read Dan but you mentioned your trepidation as to cost but then didn't say how much? Or am I being rude! Good write up although I'm not sure I would have dived into the trotter!:-)

Dan said...

Hi Marcus - thanks. Aha, not being rude at all - you must have missed it at the bottom of the post. Was £75 a head for three courses, entire meal for 2 came to just over £200

josordoni said...

Great post Dan.. real flavour of the whole experience.

Yes, £75 is quite steep for lunch, but, if Tante Claire was still going, and still had its 3*** I wonder what the bill would have been there?

meemalee said...

I am jealous - you made it sound so fab :)

Sarah - Spoonhq said...

Glad to know it's worth every penny as I'm going to be opening my purse there later this week. Jealous you and so many others have already been there. Good post.

Anonymous said...

Lovely write up Dan. I must be the only one that never got to meet Claire! The souffle looks divine. Wish I had it.

Graphic Foodie said...

Super write up as ever... I love that Mrs. K greets the diners. Lovely touch. A very successful experience.

And you got the petits fours :) I'm guessing the ones in the middle are NOT cocktail sausages?!

Anonymous said...

Nice write up Dan...but what about the wine??

The restaurant brought in a few of Londons well known sommeliers so was wondering what they might have suggested

Dan said...

Josordoni - Thanks. interesting to speculate, believe Believe Gordon Ramsays Royal Hospital Road 3* price is £110 for 3 courses, so I imagine it wouldn't be far off that.

Meemalee - hey thanks :)

Sarah - Thanks and hope you have as good an experience as I did.

Niamh - yeah that's a shame as she was so incredibly nice, she even suggested taking a photo of myself and the GF by the Koffmann sign as a souvenir, which she took for us.

Fran - Thanks :) Yep it was a nice personal touch, having the chefs wife working front of house, the petit fours - the "cocktail sausages" believe they were a very soft ganache type chocolate dusted in cocoa powder - they were all very nice.

Spiltwine - Thanks, and you've got me there. I never saw a Sommelier whilst eating - we ordered a bottle of wine in the bar just before the meal, and drank that throughout - for the life of me I can't remember what it was, a Sauvignon Blanc I think, the GF ordered it....I only had eyes for the food. I do understand there's an extensive wine list, but as the meal was pretty expensive I'm kind of glad I didn't start wading into the wine list with abandon. The pre-meal cocktails in Hix and Rules also moderated our wine intake a fair bit as you can imagine!
Sounds like I missed a trick there not picking the brains of the well known sommeliers.

Anonymous said...

i'm so happy for you that your enjoyed it that much. Having had the chance to have been there too, I agree with you that it was an amazing experience. The food was delicious, the all set was beautiful and each morcel of each dish brought me back home!

Dan said...

Mathilde, thanks. Glad you also had a great experience. Really looking forward to reading your write up.

neil said...

Nice review. I had much the same feelings especially with the trotter. I was smiling while I was eating which is not an average response form me.

I think a lot of the 'I expected more form a three star cook' crowd are missing the point. Three star food does not often come out for a room that size. LTC wouldn't have served much more than 40 diners if even that much and it would have taken near 100 + chefs to match the same food to chef ratio. In short it's a massive ask to replicate that kind of food on this scale and Pierre was renowned like marco for cooking almost everyones food. In this case he would of had to have been doctor octopus. Another factor is bedding in time, working with your staff and honing your service over years until it gets to that stage.

What we got instead was a taster or greatest hits, which was presented simply so more focus could be on the taste. Which in my opinion was worth every penny.

Dan said...

Neil, Thanks. Really glad that you also had a great experience and enjoyed your meal there. Interesting to hear a professional's take on what would be required to produce 3* food on that scale, agree entirely - worth every penny and chuffed that I can say Ive had my lips round Pierre Koffmann's trotter....err....perhaps I shouldn't phrase it quiet like that.