At the table of the master, Michel Roux Jr
Nov 26 2010 By Richard McComb
Food Critic Richard McComb enters the culinary court of Michel Roux Jr at his restaurant Le Gavroche.
I am eating the lunch that money cannot buy.
The food – platters of chicken, rabbit and livers, shredded courgette, a lightly-dressed salad, a bowl of peppered couscous – are good, as you would expect in a revered two-star Michelin restaurant that is habitually voted one of the nation’s best.
The wine is nothing short of stunning, possibly the best I have ever knocked back: a glorious 2003 Grands Echézeaux grand cru from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy. Robert Parker, the critic credited with having the best palate in the world of wine, rates the fleshy, jammy pinot at 96 points (out of 100).
But as is the way with all great meals, it is the company that really counts. To my left is Michel Roux Jr, chef extraordinaire and patron of Le Gavroche in Mayfair. He has invited me to break bread at the chef’s table before another whirlwind lunch service at the sumptuous basement dining room in Upper Brook Street, just off Park Lane.
It is the morning after the night before. Hours earlier, Claire Lara was crowned the winner of the BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals, which Roux judges with uncompromising honesty. The MasterChef charabanc rolled into Birmingham this week, taking its place at the BBC Good Food Show Winter at the NEC. Roux’s kitchen enforcer, Monica Galetti, known for striking fear into the hearts of amateur cooks and professionals alike, is among the star turns.
She is at the table for lunch, too, demolishing a serving of livers that would fortify several dockworkers. Despite her tough TV demeanour, Roux’s senior sous chef, who is sitting next to head chef Rachel Humphrey, does smile, occasionally. Humphrey, on the other hand doesn’t, at least not before service. With the minutes ticking down until the first orders are called, she is so far in the zone I’m not sure she will ever come out.
Roux is relaxed but doesn’t eat much – just a nibble of green leaves, a few forkfuls of couscous. He’s a keep-fit nut, running marathons, and is as lithe as a whippet on a frosty morning.
“That’s not much protein,” I tell the chef. “I eat throughout the day,” says Roux. Not by my standards he doesn’t. When he arrived in the kitchen, the first thing he did was flip a mini brioche into his mouth and he had a sly dunk with some bread in the sauces of the chefs’ lunch as the plates stood at the pass. But that’s about it.
“I don’t want you to think we drink wine like this every day,” says Roux, offering me a glass of the Echézeaux. “It was left by a guest last night. Half a bottle.”
Didn’t they like it? “They enjoyed it but they’d had enough,” says Roux.
The wine is on Le Gavroche’s list for about £1,000. Chin chin.