Alexis Gauthier spent 12 years as head chef at his Chelsea restaurant, Rousillon, before opting for a change of London postcode. When Richard Corrigan vacated the Regency Soho townhouse Lindsay House, he spotted an opportunity and pounced.
"I'm not in a hurry", Gauthier says. "I like to take my time and do things at the right time. After 12 years off the beaten track I was ready to move to where the track is beaten."
Central it may be, but the building isn't without its issues. Waiting staff must carry dishes up narrow stairs from the basement kitchen - something Gauthier has turned into a plus.
"It's certainly not an easy building to work with, but its limitations are part of its atmosphere. Having the tray coming up, the slightly rococo French style of classical French silverware, is something that's been lost in central London."
In dressing the restaurant's two dining rooms and two private rooms, Gauthier opted for a light, uncluttered feel. "The design is clean, delicate and slightly feminine to reflect the lightness of the cuisine," he says. "There's nothing on the walls to distract from what is on the plate."
These dining spaces are serviced by nine staff in the kitchen and 14 out front, who currently cater for 80 covers a day, generating average per-person spend of £37 at lunch and £70 in the evening.
Gauthier is aware of the culinary lineage he has inherited along with the bricks and mortar of Lindsay House. "Richard put Lindsay House on London's gastronomic map, and it's nice to be able to raise the flag here again and carry on his good work. Every chef has their own personality. Richard's dishes showed who he was and where he came from. I'm trying to do the same."
As at Rousillon, the emphasis at Gauthier Soho is on French food using the best seasonal ingredients, cooked using classical techniques. "It's very different to places like the Fat Duck", Gauthier says. "Foams, space dust - that's not me. I'm into long-cooked sauces. We don't take shortcuts. My cooking relies on great ingredients such as the best Scottish girolles and scallops, cooked in a classical French way. It's the only way I know. Being a chef is about finding the right ingredients and knowing your classics. And right now London is the Mecca of ingredients in Europe."
Gauthier divides his menu into five zones, with diners invited to choose to select three dishes for £35, four for £45 or five for £55. It's his way of ensuring guests get to sample more of his food. There's also a seasonal tasting menu at £68.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Offering value for money is vital to Gauthier: "We work hard on the margins - I don't believe you have to make an 80% profit if you want loyal customers. Still and sparkling water is free and bread is not automatically removed when the first course arrives."
The summer truffle risotto, which comes piled high with generous shavings of truffle, honours this commitment to value. "Truffles are good value this year so we can really indulge", the chef explains.
Dish after dish showcases his light touch. Wild Scottish sea trout is softened by the sweetness of Secretts beetroot and the acidity of sorrel, while high-quality scallops are dressed only with a hint of garlic and a clean parsley purée.
Meat dishes pack a feistier punch. Fillet of Angus beef comes with red carrots, pommes Anna and an intense beef jus. And saddle of Welsh lamb is accompanied by a light aubergine fritter, a quenelle of aubergines, courgettes and tomato, and a thyme and lamb reduction. Both bear the hallmark of Gauthier's well-documented emphasis upon vegetables.
The emphasis on the dessert list is on decadence. Duck egg soufflé comes with chocolate fingers and rich chocolate custard. Richer still, is the Golden Louis XV, a soft, crunchy and intense creation that sits dacquoise, mousse and feuillantine under a chocolate glacage and a bonnet of gold leaf. Head sommelier Roberto Della Petria recommends a pommeau de Normandie to cut through the excess.
The emphasis on value extends to the wine list, with most bottles coming in at around £25-£45. "We've done lots of research and we have a wide range of good value south-west France wines", says Gauthier. "Roberto is Italian so there are lots of wonderful Italian wines, and he's also good on the New World. We look as far afield as possible."
21 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AF
Tel: 020 7494 3111www.gauthiersoho.co.uk
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
â-Crispy olive oil tart with thyme-scented summer vegetables
â-Chilled broad bean soup with pea royale
â-Pan-fried foie gras, apricot and port reduction
â-Oven-baked filet of wild seabass, cooked and raw artichokes, lemon aromatic sauce
â-Monkfish and girolles with runner beans, cured ham and chicken jus
â-Soft cherry and dark chocolate, cherry and red wine jelly, cherry jam and champagne granité
â-Roasted guinea fowl in a pot with trompette, new season onions, rainbow chard and sauce diable