I have to confess my heart sank slightly when I first looked at the menu for Pierre Koffmann’s eponymous new restaurant in Knightsbridge. It seemed so ... very 1980’s ... which I had to remind myself it’s only reasonable to expect from a chef who made his reputation 25 years ago. Reports of a dull, slightly corporate dining room didn’t help. In fact it was only the prospect of a £22 three course set lunch deal that got the adrenalin pumping and made me feel I needed to get down there as quickly as possible
To fill those of you in who don’t have the shared history. Koffmann was the chef of the ‘80s with his restaurant La Tante Claire which occupied the Chelsea site then taken over by a young, thrusting Gordon Ramsay. He then moved to the Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge which is where he’s ended up again and which he shares with the now equally high profile Marcus Wareing. (This makes the hotel - for the moment - the premier dining destination in London - until Heston opens across the road at the Mandarin Oriental.)
He’s now 62 - Koffmann not Wareing - an age at which most chefs have hung up their clogs and even though he’s not obviously in there doing back to back shifts (he has a head chef) his style of ‘haute’ French bourgeois cooking is firmly stamped all over the menu.
And that means - hooray - offal: no less than three kinds on the set price menu. I went for broke and had it for starters and mains. An elegant curl of calf’s tongue (above) encircling a mound of celeriac remoulade and beetroot topped with a soft-boiled egg and a more than generous portion of light-as-air calf’s brains with brown butter and capers which I couldn’t even finish. Maybe no-one else had ordered it and I had their allocation for the day.
My friend, Sig, opted for the seafood, an equally good choice. Possibly the sweetest, tastiest clams in London and some superfresh fillets of red mullet boldly served Bordelais style with a red wine sauce. There were sides of crisp French fries and a dinky little casserole of mixed veg, more relics of an earlier more generous era when veg weren’t charged as extras - though it has to be said the la carte menu, which includes classics such as sole meunire and lobster thermidor, isn’t cheap.
Puds were equally classic: oeufs la neige (of which you can get an impression in the badly lit photo right), a big soft ball of puffy meringue coated in cracking caramel, floating in a sea of creamy vanilla-flecked custard and an elaborate fig tart which could possibly have done without it [the custard]
The decor wasn’t too corporate either. Yes it was posh - what else do you expect in that neighbourhood? - but the designer had made the best of a difficult space keeping it light and dotting the room with vases of vivid yellow sunflowers. Service especially from Koffmann’s partner Claire was warm and welcoming and would have garnered full marks had it not been for the wine service which was in the worst French tradition of being superior and deliberately obtuse.
As we were eating such different dishes we’d decided to opt for wines by the glass and asked the sommelier to suggest some matches. He immediately went for the most expensive wines on the list then when I said I didn’t want to spend more than £10 a glass lost interest in the whole exercise, coming up with some none-too-clever pairings and serving the wine I'd picked for the main course with my starter. I suggest until they sort that out you buy a bottle from the charmingly named ‘De Biarritz Perpignan’ south-west French section of the winelist which for Knightsbridge is very reasonably priced. (They actually have a white and a red for £19 a bottle.)
So maybe it’s good to go to a place with lowered expectations. What I like about Koffmann’s is that it revives the old French tradition of offering a stylish prix fixe lunch from humble ingredients which will lure you in there regularly if you're not waylaid by the equal temptations of Bar Boulud opposite or Racine a few hundred yards away.
I doubt if Koffmann set out to garner Michelin stars this time but he’ll certainly get them. Michelin will love it and so, I suspect, will you.
Koffmann's is at The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge London, SW1X 7RL For reservations ring +44 (0)20 7235 1010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org