Eric Chavot isn’t the easy-going kind of guy for whom cooking might ever be a form of relaxation.
The French chef is a culinary whirlwind whose energy lands him in hot water -- he was recently in trouble for swearing on television. He also enjoys the warm embrace of fellow chefs, for whom he is an inspiration.
He held two Michelin stars at the Capital hotel in London where he worked for 10 years before moving to Florida to cook for the Weston family, owners of Selfridges. He has now opened Brasserie Chavot in London. He says it is his lifetime dream.
Chavot’s the king of the kitchen and of the front of house, where he can be seen enthusiastically engaging with guests.
It sometimes feels like there is a committee behind new restaurants, investors who like to reference current trends: simplicity, seasonality and steak. Not here.
The dining room is long and narrow and looks like the hotel space it is, inside the Westbury. With its Italian mosaic tiled flooring and its five 18th-century French gold chandeliers, it’s not readily identifiable as a brasserie.
Neither are Chavot’s dishes all regular brasserie fare: Chavot takes simple dishes as his starting point and then ratchets up the flavor, combining good ingredients with culinary wizardry.
He’s a gastronomic chef who has dispensed with some of the frippery of fine-dining. (In fact, he may have gone too far, as the service can be a little too relaxed at times.) What he’s come up with is great food that, while worthy of stars, isn’t crazily expensive.
The French-led wine list follows a similar path. It’s approachable without being dull, with several choices by the carafe. If you are not on a tight budget, the Pinot Noir Pierre Frick (70 pounds, $107) from Alsace is made without added sulphites.
Starters include snails Bourguignon with meatballs and potato espuma (9 pounds), a really earthy dish, or you can go for the lighter touch, such as ceviche of scallops. I most enjoy deep-fried soft-shell crab with whipped aioli: the crispiness of the batter, the creamy garlic mayonnaise a happy match.
My favorite dish on the menu is a mini-rack of lamb, with couscous and olive jus. The meat is from Cornwall. It’s air-dried and then cooked sous vide with a mixture of spices that includes cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric. It’s studded with dark brown sugar and cooked on the Josper grill. It’s smoky, spicy, crunchy and sweet. And I want it now.
I’m partial, too, to the ricotta and parmesan gnocchi, which is as light and fluffy as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Desserts include a predictably accomplished vanilla creme brulee, and a rum baba with creme fraiche Chantilly.
The past year has seen some high-profile new brasseries, including the Zedel (from the owners of the Wolseley) and Balthazar (an import from New York). Chavot is much smaller scale, which means it misses some of the wow factor of Zedel and some of the celebrity buzz of Balthazar. In terms of the food, it stands alone.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 40 pounds for food.
Sound level? Buzzy 75-80 decibels.
Inside tip? Ask for a table at the far end of the room.
Special feature? Personality-plus chef.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes.
Brasserie Chavot, 41 Conduit Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2YQ. Information: http://brasseriechavot.com, +44-20-7078-9577.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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