The six course, £60 “Le Marché” menu at Club Gascon is (in my opinion at least!) one of the best tasting menus in London. Far superior to those on offer at some of the ‘big name’ restaurants, it boasts innovative flavour combinations, interesting textures, and beautiful presentation. And most importantly, it tastes delicious.
This was my second visit to Club Gascon – as on my first trip, I opted for the vegetarian menu, while my boyfriend went for the standard carnivorous version (I’m not actually a vegetarian – but ingredients such as crispy frog’s legs are a little too exotic for my liking! And in any case, it’s a good opportunity to try a wider variety of dishes).
The dining experience begins frugally, with a single slender breadstick to whet the appetite, followed by a dainty amuse bouche. For the meat-eaters, this was a delectable dish of braised fennel doused in a delectable oyster cream, while as a faux-vegetarian I was (perhaps mistakenly?) served with cubes of raw tuna coupled with a dainty sliver of compressed apple.
Raw tuna and compressed apple
The tuna was fresh and meaty, offering a pleasant contrast to the tart apple, but I’ve had something very similar before (the tasting menu at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze features an almost identical dish) so I wasn’t blown way. The fennel dish, on the other hand, was pretty special; the delicate liquorice notes of the perfectly cooked fennel beautifully counteracted by the creamy richness of the oyster broth.
Fennel and oyster cream
The bread basket was another treat – a gorgeous selection of warm seeded rolls and miniature French loaves was served alongside a slate holding two types of butter. The quenelle of whipped butter was my favourite – beautifully textured and light as air, I slathered my bread with great (some might say excessive?) enthusiasm.
The whipped butter (on the right) was SO good
From this point on, the service – a bit slow to start with – accelerated. Course after course of imaginative dishes – all completely different, and all (which I think is one of the signs of a really good tasting menu) things we would never be capable of recreating at home – arrived in a steady stream. The elegant and unusual flavour combinations, exotic mouth-feels and unexpected textures kept us on our toes, and the 4-hour meal flew by in a blur of gastronomic delights.
Chestnut velouté with gnocchi, marmite clementine, and “tasty spongy things”
The first main course on the vegetarian menu consisted of a sumptuous chestnut velouté with gnocchi and the intriguing marmite Clementine.’ The velouté was smooth and rich, dotted with delicious, partially submerged cubes of golden-seared gnocchi. The combination of sharp-sweet citrus and yeasty marmite – as demonstrated by the single clementine segment – was surprisingly palatable, while the colourful sponge-like puffs of I-don’t-know-what added a further layer of interest to the dish. Meanwhile, the carnivorous offering – tender, white capon meat served with trompette mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke – was also excellent.
Capon with trompette mushrooms and Jerusalem artichoke
Next to arrive were an aromatic pumpkin and truffle soup and crispy frog’s legs paired with morels and salsify. The pumpkin soup, heady with truffles, was intensely, almost sensuously musky – a real treat. Meanwhile the crispy frog’s legs (which I didn’t try) were eloquently described by my boyfriend as “shrimpy, in a good way”.
Pumpkin and truffle soup
The third main was my favourite: an elegantly presented dish composed of a beautiful purple tulip, stuffed with a delicious quinoa risotto and served alongside paper thin rounds of vibrant beetroot and slivers of crosnes – which upon further investigation I discovered to be a root vegetable also known as the Chinese artichoke.
“Quinotto” stuffed purple tulip with crosnes
The standard offering was slightly less impressive: an attempt to combine salt cod broth with foie gras wasn’t entirely successful (the rich, buttery flavours of the foie gras were overwhelmed by the salty fish flavours, while immersion in warm broth gave it a texture bordering on slimy), but it was interesting nonetheless.
Aligot with wild mushrooms and crispy kale (and purple wafer!)
On the vegetarian menu, the final savoury course took the form of aligot (an Alpine speciality, blending mashed potatoes with gooey cheese) coupled with wild mushrooms, crispy kale, and a (slightly random) purple wafer. The kale was exquisite, crunchy and intensely flavoured, but the aligot was a bit rich for me – especially at this late point in the meal!
Rare goose, red cabbage, puntarella, and mulled wine sauce
Meanwhile, the standard menu offered up my favourite meat dish of the night: a rather festive combination of roast goose, red cabbage, mulled wine and puntarella (a type of Italian chicory). The sweet spiciness of the mulled wine and colourful red cabbage was perfect with the rich, meaty goose – a pairing I would definitely consider for Christmas dinner!
Mini ice-cream cone with salted caramel
With only one sweet course, the Club Gascon tasting menu has a definite bias towards the savoury dishes, and we enthusiastically welcomed the arrival of our dainty pre-dessert. The miniature ice-cream cone, topped with a diminutive scoop of creamy vanilla ice-cream and a smear of mouth-wateringly good salted caramel, was one of my favourite parts of the whole meal.
Dessert – a little bit of everything (including, to my delight, more of that exquisite salted caramel!)
Dessert was also a big success – while we weren’t too sure about the description given on the menu (marmite king cake, iced kumquat, and aromatic clementines), the flavours worked really well together, resulting in a dish which was as delicious as it was innovative.
We finished our meal – full, but not painfully so (due to the perfect sizing of the courses) – with tea and coffee, spoonfuls of creamy mousse, and a dish of carefully selected sweets: dark chocolate truffles, fruity jelly cubes, tiny beans flavoured with passion fruit and cocoa, and a brittle, rippled sheet of unidentifiable deliciousness (Chocolate? Burnt caramel? Fruit? We couldn’t work out what it was, but it tasted lovely!)
“Le Marché” is an amazing gastronomic experience, but if you don’t have the time or money for the full 6-course extravaganza, Club Gascon also offers a very reasonable three-course menu for £28. Alternatively, you could check out one of Club Gascon’s sister restaurants: head next door to Cellar Gascon for wine and small plates, or to Comptoir Gascon, a couple of minutes away, for the low-key bistro menu.