Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Club Gascon and J. Sheekey

Magazine article The Spectator

Restaurant: Club Gascon and J. Sheekey

Article excerpt

IN rather a good year for new London restaurants I can report on two fine late arrivals. In the past few months the splendid Club Gascon has opened in West Smithfield, and the owners of The Ivy and Le Caprice have refurbished the `fish ordinary', J. Sheekey, just off St Martin's Lane. Both places have achieved that rare success of seeming to have been open for years, and both are justifiably doing a roaring trade.

Paschal Aussignac is a young Toulousain chef who worked for his fellow Gascon Alain Dutournier at his magnificent Carre des Feuillants restaurant in Paris. In London he has set up in a former Lyons teashop beside Barts Hospital, where he offers a menu devoted to the cuisine of his region, specialising in such goodies as foie gras, cassoulet and confit of duck. Even more remarkable than the wealth of Gascon treats on offer are the remarkably low prices he charges for them.

Part of the reason is that portions are commendably small, thus encouraging one to try more than one dish per head, but also Pascal clearly believes in giving a fair deal. Thus, his seven foie gras dishes cost between 3.50 and 8, and main courses weigh in at 6 to 7.50. My most recent meal there, with the bon vivant fauna and flora communications guru Ken Thomson, came to just 66.50 for three courses (including three starters), coffee and a bottle of robust Minervois. Amazing value.

The medium-sized room is well lit, simply decorated, with mainly circular tables, and some leather armchairs by the entrance in which to await one's table. There are plenty of keen young French waiters, and the place is packed with the vibrant ambience of a good brasserie in a French market town at midday. Ken and I instantly felt at home. and kicked off with foie gras en terrine, rillettes of duck, and a 'cake' of cepes and parsley. Each was magnificent: the foie gras a perfect mottled pink, chilled and tasting sweetly of duck, the 'cake' more an egg custard, bursting with the taste of cepes and the duck ril t lettes simply the best that we had ever eaten.

Next Ken ate some duck confit in a marvellous vegetable garbure with intense duck broth around it. Having on a previous visit tried an excellent fillet steak a la plancha, in a Madiran sauce with a stuffed pimento, this time I chose smoked eel fillets fried in feather-light choux pastry, with punchy horseradish sauce. …

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