Sometimes you set off to somewhere with quite the wrong expectations and I suspect that was the case with Gauthier Soho. I had vaguely heard Alexis Gauthier was opening a new place and assumed it would be a more casual version of his former Pimlico restaurant Roussillon. Instead of which it’s a clone
Gauthier is a very skilled cook, no doubt about it, but basically the food is much the same as he’s been cooking for the past 12 years. When he started it was pretty revolutionary to base a menu so heavily on vegetable-based dishes. He was also one of the first chefs to recognise umami and introduce it into his menu. But you feel - correct that, I feel - that his cooking hasn’t really evolved over the last few years.
The problem for me is that it’s too formal, too French with white tablecloths, hovering waiters and hushed conversations. (He’s taken over Richard Corrigan’s elegant Lindsay House which has a number of small rooms rather than one big dining room.)
The la carte menu is divided into five sections numbered premier, deuxime, troisime etc with 3 choices in each. We opted for this rather than the 12 course tasting menu which seemed a bit over the top for a midweek dinner. (A tip - the portion sizes are larger than you might expect: you only need 3 which will cost you a reasonable £27.)
Some of the dishes were outstanding - particularly the wild garlic and cheese rolls that were offered in the bread basket, the herb and ricotta ravioli and the roasted scallops with celery, brown butter and lime but there was a saminess about the ingredients and presentation that made the meal a touch monotonous. It was hard to escape green pures and savoury umami rich sauces - the herb ravioli I ordered came with the same ‘jus de roti’ as the wild garlic risotto which was not a million miles from the veal jus on the sweetbread and morels. You need to exercise a bit of care when you’re ordering.
Roussillon’s wine list and service were always outstanding and it is here too. There’s an excellent wine by the glass list which makes it easy to pair individual dishes - though as usual that’s not an inexpensive exercise. Star combinations were a lovely lush Gaillac La Vigne de l’Oubli from Domaine d’Escausses which was intended for the herb ravioli but also went brilliantly with the sweetbreads. And a Rhoneish 2008 Chateau Puysserguier Saint Chinian Blanc was a great match for a dish of smoked salted wild sea bass with white asparagus, melba toasts and cep mushrooms.
There is also a brilliant little tasting room-cum-wineshop at the back of the ground floor where you can buy the wines you drank at retail prices.
I feel I should have liked Gauthier more than I did. Misplaced expectations are usually a recipe for disappointment. If I’d read the press release before I went I’d have known that the restaurant offered ‘resolutely French cuisine and classic service” and it’s my problem rather than theirs I’m not into that degree of formality these days. Nevertheless I’m inclined to go back and give it another try in a couple of months by which time it will have hopefully loosened up and incorporated a little more variety on the menu. It was only the third night they’d opened after all.
Gauthier Soho is at 21 Romilly Street, London, W1D 5AF. Tel: (44) (0)20 7494 3111
PS another highlight I'd forgotten. The violet-flavoured marshmallows are Not To Be Missed.