SPECIALISING in cuisine from the south-west of France, Club Gascon offers discerning foodies a refreshing change. Not only does this 10-month-old restaurant bust out of the bistro mould, but it is reckoned to serve some of the most brilliantly crafted food available in London.
"I have very high standards," wrote restaurant critic AA Gill at the end of last year, just three months after the 60-seat restaurant opened, "but Club Gascon was a fabulous surprise." The Independent described it as an enticing and original place to eat and Jonathan Meades praised it for daring to go against the London trend.
At the heart of the restaurant you find the reason for all the praise. Having spent most of his working life cooking in some of the finest restaurants in Paris, Pascal Aussignac, originally from Toulouse, left France to set up his own business.
Shortly after arriving in England, Aussignac and business partner Vincent Labeyrie identified an opening in London for a restaurant concentrating on food from the south-west of France. They gleaned some financial advice from Momo owner Mourad Mazouz, but it took a year before Labeyrie and Aussignac found an ideal site and a further year for them to convert the former Lyons Corner House into Club Gascon.
In spite of designer input, much of the former interior has remained, including the marble walls and wooden flooring. "The restaurant feels old, as if it has been here for a while," Aussignac told Caterer in May. "That means customers trust it. You don't get that feeling of trust if a place is too new, too shiny."
The menu is contemporary, too. Aussignac offers a menu of six categories and says customers tend to order four or five small dishes because they are not constrained by the formalities of a starter, main course and dessert. "Here you can eat one or two dishes and spend £10, but you can also spend £100," he said. "I have adapted the cuisine for modern eating habits, but I have been careful not to disturb the Gascon way."
A recent tasting menu, designed for more than one person, gives a flavour of the new venture. There is farmhouse jambon de Bayonne and Pyrenean cheese; roast fresh scallops, parsnip and truffle vinaigrette; duck ravioli, foie gras and sorrel sauce; and old-fashioned cassoulet à la Toulousaine. Then there is spring delight (clafoutis), sweet foie gras and apple candy. The monthly changing menu costs £30 per person, and customers can enjoy a different glass of wine with each course for £50.
Judge David Wilkinson summarised the panel's thoughts on Club Gascon and its chef-proprietor: "I admire this chap. His emphasis is on taste, the presentation is very simple, yet he's captivating the imagination of other chefs."
More remarkable, though, was Wilkinson's closing comment. While declaring that a meal at the Oak Room Marco Pierre White (Le Méridien, London) was the best he had ever had, he added that some of the tastes he had experienced at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant were equal to those he had enjoyed at Club Gascon. n
Published by: The Caterer