One of the most talked about openings of the year played host to Caterer readers last week at a memorable Chef Eats Out lunch. Kerstin Kühn joined the diners at Pierre Koffmann's restaurant at London's Berkeley hotel
When Pierre Koffmann announced last year that he was to return to the stove, the cheffing fraternity went wild. Arguably one of the most respected chefs to have worked in London, Koffmann inspired many generations of chefs from the kitchens of his famous La Tante Claire restaurant. So when the 62-year-old revealed he was making a comeback to the capital's restaurant scene, chefs and critics alike were thrilled.
Born in Gascony, south-west France, Koffmann moved to the UK in the 1960s and, after working with the Roux brothers first at Le Gavroche and then the Waterside Inn, opened La Tante Claire in 1977. He ran the restaurant for 25 years, achieving Michelin's top accolade of three stars and all the while inspiring and training countless young chefs, among them Marco Pierre White, Eric Chavot and Gordon Ramsay.
A chef so dedicated to his restaurant that it would close whenever he was away, Koffmann's passion and love for cooking never stopped - even after La Tante Claire had shut its doors. And so he made his comeback last year with a pop-up restaurant on the roof of London department store Selfridges, which was a roaring success. But it only intensified his desire to return to the kitchen permanently and finally, after an absence of more than seven years, the iconic chef opened Koffmann's at the Berkeley hotel in July this year.
The food at Koffmann's is the refined country cooking of Gascony that the French chef is so well known for, but it does represent a move away from the haute cuisine that won him Michelin stars. That means hearty, robust and gutsy flavours with main ingredients such as rabbit, beef cheeks and cod, a menu of cheaper cuts and seasonal British produce, although old favourites such as scallops with squid ink, braised pig's trotter with morels and his famous pistachio soufflé are also still on the menu.
For Chef Eats Out, Koffmann created a five-course menu featuring some of his most famous dishes which have hearty flavours and his rustic approach to cooking at their core.
The 90 Chef Eats Out attendees were welcomed at the restaurant by manager Eric Garnier and his team and treated to a Champagne reception. Once seated, things kicked off with an amuse-bouche of pig's trotter with celeriac remoulade. The softly gelatinous shredded trotter provided a lovely texture contrast to the crisp remoulade and altogether it was a simple dish so intense in flavour it set the tone for the meal to come.
Next up was a starter of snails, girolles, garlic and mashed potatoes, which went down a treat with the diners. The meaty snails and mushrooms were served on a bed of rich, buttery mash covered by a deep green parsley foam. "This was the best course for me," says Marcus Bean, head chef at the New Inn Baschurch, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. "The garlic mash was beautiful and light and so smooth, and it matched perfectly with the strong flavours of the girolles and the soft texture of the snails. This is a perfect example of not making things over-complicated, just making sure everything is perfectly cooked and presented well."
The main course continued in like vein and packed a real punch as far as flavours were concerned. Braised hare stuffed with foie gras provided an intensely gamey main ingredient, which was served with polenta and bowls of chips and Brussels sprouts on the table.
"It was a real show-stopper, the meat was perfectly cooked - fork-tender but not falling to rags, and nicely lubricated by the foie gras," says Gareth Johns, chef-proprietor of the Wynnstay hotel in Machynlleth, Wales. "A powerful, yet clean-tasting reduction of the braising liquor provided a treat for the palate."
The dish was beautifully matched with 2007 Faugères "Jadis" from Domaine Leon Barral, which offered sufficient weight to cope with the robust, masculine flavours on show.
The meal concluded with arguably Koffmann's most iconic dish: his famous pistachio soufflé served with pistachio ice-cream. The kitchen sent out more than 100 perfect soufflés - light and fluffy, they all rose a full two inches above their ramekins and were a definite highlight to finish off the meal. Simon Hulstone, chef-proprietor of the Michelin-starred Elephant in Torquay, Devon, and the UK entrant for the forthcoming Bocuse d'Or final in Lyon in January, agrees: "The pistachio soufflé was a highlight - I could have eaten two and I believe a few did, lucky sods!"
Following lunch, guests were treated to a tour of the kitchen under the guidance of Koffmann, who looked pleased with the success of the event. It's plain to see that he is back where he belongs, in the kitchen.
1 Amuse-bouche: pig's trotter remoulade
2 Cassolette d'escargots et girolles à l'ail (snails, girolles, garlic and mashed potatoes)
3 Lievre à la royale (braised hare stuffed with foie gras)
4 Soufflé aux pistaches et sa glace (pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice-cream)
â- 2007 Bourgogne Blanc "Bigotes", Domaine de Chassorney
â- 2007 Faugères "Jadis", Domaine Leon Barral (en magnum)
â- 2009 Poire Granit, Domaine Eric Bordelet
Koffmann's would like to thank
â- Jody Scheckter at Laverstoke Park Farm for the ice-cream, meat and chicken
â- Simon Martin at QVFoods/Fresh Approach for the vegetables
â- Richard Lewis of Laurent-Perrier for the Champagne
â- Eric Narioo and Philippe Lubac at Les Caves de Pyrene for the wine
Souffle aux pistaches By Pierre Koffmann