The return of Eric Chavot to the London dining scene was an eagerly anticipated event. This veteran of the kitchens of Pierre Koffman, Raymond Blanc, Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White established his own restaurant, Interlude de Chavot in 1995, gaining a Michelin star within a year. His subsequent career at the Capital Hotel, culminated in the award of two Michelin stars which he held for nine years. Private service in Florida for the Weston family who own Selfridges, and an intense two months at Pierre Koffmann’s pop up restaurant on the roof of the same store, were a prelude to the opening of his eponymous brasserie in March 2013
Not that “brasserie” does full justice to the setting and décor of his new operation. The Mayfair location, in what used to be the Gallery restaurant of the Westbury Hotel, exudes glamour and sophistication. The exquisite Italian mosaic floor, 18th century gold chandeliers and classical columns, juxtaposed with art deco styling, typify a grand, fine dining venue. The partitions separating the long line of tables and tall dark red banquettes and tchairs along one side of the narrow room have a pleasing effect. Opposite, the mirrored walls are broken by the addition of elegant shelving. The small lounge bar near the entrance is balanced by the long food bar at the far end, where cold starters and shellfish are prepared within view of appreciative diners.
Nor can the cooking be called typical brasserie fare. True, Eric Chavot has returned to a more homely, rustic style, reminiscent of the gutsy, bold flavoured cuisine of his native South West France, a sharp contrast to the haute cuisine of most of his former restaurants. But his style is far from typical, the dishes bearing his personal imprint notably in the timing, composition, saucing, garnishing, and presentation. His passion is shown in the provenance of impeccable quality ingredients and in the skilful execution of seemingly simple dishes that nevertheless require the chef to be at the top of his craft.
The menu of classic and contemporary dishes allows a fair degree of choice without being so extensive as to undermine consistency. 11 starters include favourites such as charcuterie and steak tartare and more modern dishes such as scallop ceviche and soft shell crab. Similarly, main courses range from choucroute garnie to tiger prawn with chickpea and chorizo. The choice of desserts such as profiteroles or crème brulee is more conservative but no less inviting.
Aperitifs include the popular Pineau des Charentes, Lillet and Ricard whilst the largely French wine list gives many options by the glass, pichet or carafe.
Fine Dining Guide visited Brasserie Chavot on a weekday evening in April.
A selection of hot and cold starters demonstrated the range of Eric Chavot’s skills.
Steak tartare,topped with a soft boiled quail’s egg for extra richness, had a much looser, creamier texture than those found elsewhere and was all the better for it. The carefully seasoned beef was bound by a well balanced mustard dressing spiked with capers amd cornichons which enhanced the soft, succulent qualities of the meat.
Chicken liver parfait was rich, intensely flavoured and surprisingly light. A slice of pork terrine was exemplary in its firm texture and depth of flavour.
Deep fried soft shell crabs were encased in a light tempura batter that was crisp and delicate without being greasy.Their relative blandness needed the pungency of the whipped saffron aioli which accompanied the dish.
A special starter featured seared scallops, accurately timed to produce a caramelised crust and sweet, translucent flesh. A topping of tiny crutons and bacon cubes added textural complexity, whilst grilled asparagus gave a deeply savoury quality to balance the sweetness of the seafood. A saffron dressing worked well in bringing these diverse elements together.
Main courses included a dish that no brasserie should be without: daube de beouf. Long slow cooking had produced meltingly tender meat in a heavily reduced, deeply flavoured sauce that was glossy and sticky. Again, as with so many of his other dishes, Eric added his personal stamp , “garniture grande mere” – in this case, a bourgignon style addition of lardons, button mushrooms and baby onions – along with carrots and a delectably smooth potato puree.
A sensational lamb dish partnered a glazed char grilled mini rack with a brick pastry cigarette filled with braised shoulder, showcasing the differing textural and flavour qualities of each cut. The accompanying couscous, studded with golden raisins, peppers, pine nuts, coriander and mint, complemented the lamb perfectly, whilst the whole dish was lifted by an intense olive jus.
Desserts were equally accomplished.
Baba au rhum showed the correct degree of spongy cake like texture and had been well, but not over, soaked in a sugar syrup. Crème fraiche Chantilly and a carpaccio of pineapple proved suitable accompaniments.
Cafe Liegeoise was a grown up interpretation of the classic. Mocha ice cream, brownie and creme Chantilly were topped with a crisp disc rich, dark chocolate.
Perhaps best of all was the glazed passion fruit cheesecake with its curd and sorbet garnishes, each of which captured the sweet and sour flavour of this delectable fruit with its lasting astringent after taste.
Good Nespresso coffee completed a highly satisfying meal This was enhanced by the friendly, knowledgeable service and the exciting buzz of relaxed enjoyment as the restaurant filled up.
Clearly, Brasserie Chavot, with its stylish accommodation, relaxed ambience, accomplished cooking by a distinguished chef is already making a strong impact. In a year that has seen many West End openings , it is more than capable of holding its own in what is already a highly competitive field. We will watch its progress with interest.