Review: Club Gascon, West Smithfield

Well what can one say about Club Gascon which hasn’t been said by reviewers before.  It provides a gastronomic experience, though not necessarily to everyone’s taste, courtesy of top chef Pascal Aussignac who is an expert at blending and matching ingredients to whet one’s tastebuds.  As such it is one of three Michelin starred restaurants in the Clerkenwell/Smithfield area (the others being North Road and St. John) having maintained this culinary accolade since 2002.  Reviews by perhaps more gastronomically experienced critics than the writer are almost overwhelmingly extremely favourable.

Club Gascon exterior

Club Gascon exterior

As one of the most upmarket restaurants in the Clerkenwell area, if you are paying these prices one expects excellent service, and in this respect we were not disappointed.  A very friendly welcome and we were shown straight to our table and offered a kir royale aperitif which was welcomed.  Service throughout was attentive without being overwhelming, while the sommelier explained the wines to us excellently, our having opted to allow him to choose the appropriate wine for each course.

Great bread can also be a sign of a restaurant which pays attention to detail and I have to say that that at the Club Gascon was remarkably good.  It was served with two different butters which were both very tasty.

The restaurant itself is quite small with perhaps a maximum seating capacity of around 46, so it is a good idea to book.  While it wasn’t actually full on a Tuesday evening it was close to being so – but it just doesn’t seem like an establishment one can walk into and expect to find a table available at short notice.

As the restaurant name suggests Aussignac’s food is based on south western French cuisine – he hails from Toulouse – and it is seasonally based.

 

Part of Club Gascon’s restaurant area

Part of Club Gascon’s restaurant area

The a la carte menu is divided into four sections – La Route du Sel, Le Potager, L’Oceane and Les Paturages and selecting a dish from each section would set one back around £65.  There is a five course tasting menu available at £60 – £90 with wine pairing (wines to accompany each course selected by the sommelier), and with the wine list being a little on the pricey side as befits a restaurant of this class, the wine pairing option is probably a smart choice – particularly as, in line with the restaurant management’s taste blending ethos one might find oneself drinking something one might not have chosen oneself, but finding it perfectly matched to the specific dish.

For those on a smaller budget there is a chef’s special three course (or two course with coffee or tea) dinner menu available – and at lunch times a perhaps even better value one – the Dejeuner Club at £25 offering more choices (six options for each course) than the dinner menu (three options per course).  The special lunch menu is also designed for local business personnel who can’t afford to take more than an hour off at that time of day.

We chose the chef’s dinner special and allowed the sommelier to pair wines with each course.  I would describe the meal as decidedly interesting, being treated to delights we might not have chosen from the menu descriptions.  For example crackled capon wings, scallops ballotine, nuts and lovage as a starter, or sauteed beef onglet pastrami, sherry & barbecued ketchup as a main.  All offering very interesting and mouth watering taste combinations.  The wines chosen complemented the dishes well.  Desserts again suggested interesting taste variations but I chose the excellent plate of cheeses – and the sommelier chose a sweet red Maury wine to go with them which worked very well indeed.

 

Overall the gastronomic experience at Club Gascon is great, the ambience is excellent, the service likewise.  Definitely a place to go for a special occasion.

 

Club Gascon is open for lunch Monday to Friday from 12 noon to 2 pm and for dinner from Monday to Thursday from 7 pm to 10 pm and from 7 pm to 10.30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  To make a reservation call 020 7796 0600.  The restaurant is located at 57 West Smithfield, right next to the entrance to St. Bartholomew the Great church.

….and the Cellar Gascon too – a wine bar with a truly Gallic touch

Right next door to the Club Gascon, and sharing the same kitchen, is the Cellar Gascon – a more casual eating place which is in reality a wine bar, which also serves a limited menu of high quality food including a soup and dish of the day and/or a selection of small plate meals served tapas style.

 

Bar area at Cellar Gascon

Bar area at Cellar Gascon

On the day we went there at lunchtime we had the excellent value three course express lunch which at £14 for soup/starter, main dish of the day, dessert or cheese and a glass of house wine.  The ambience is definitely a cut above the average wine bar, undoubtedly helped by a truly Gallic atmosphere.  However if going along for the dish of the day it may be worth calling ahead to find out what it is.  Steak tartare was the dish for the day we went which is fine by me, but I recognise that not everyone is enamoured with a raw minced beef patty with a raw egg on top!    But even if you do go and don’t fancy the dish of the day there are numerous small plates to whet your appetite.  The shared plate of ‘piggy treats’ shared by a group at the next table looked particularly appetising.

In the evenings the wine bar now offers free appetisers to go along with your drink.

While we were there we were lucky enough to meet Pascal Aussignac, the co-owner and deviser of the dishes on offer at Cellar Gascon and at the Club Gascon next door.  He doesn’t look old enough to have started the restaurants back in 1998, and gained a Michelin star only four years later, but he is obviously passionate about the dishes and menus he devises, and about south western French regional cooking upon which his offerings are based.

If you like wine bars the Cellar Gascon is a significant cut above the average in terms of atmosphere – and a place where one can have a light bite (or a more substantial one if the dish of the day is chosen) and drink some excellent wines too.

Cellar Gascon is open from 12 noon to midnight from Monday to Friday.