A French feast at Koffmann's

With so much eating out recently, I thought it was time to dial back on the food expenses a bit. But, as usual, I was thwarted by the latest email from Bookatable with a 3 course meal for £26 at Koffmann's. I'd meant to check out the legendary chef of La Tante Claire fame at his new home at The Berkley hotel after eating what was probably the richest meal of all time when he headed up the Selfridges pop-up restaurant a few years back. That meal, including the gloriously gelatinous trotters, still lives on in my memory, and probably my arteries. Oh and that pistachio soufflé!

Now I'm generally a little wary of the set menu at places like Koffmann's. The menu tends to be a simpler take on a chef's food, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've not eaten at Marcus Wareing at The Berkely, for example, but I don't think I'd order his set lunch menu and then regretfully wonder if I were missing out on some of the flashier food combinations of the tasting menu. My point is that Chef Koffmann isn't really about flashy food combinations, but about honest, well constructed, hearty, French brasserie food. For that reason, I thought I'd give the Bookatable offer a go.

Chicken Liver Terrine
So, an early dinner and onto quenelles. Did you watch The Very Hungry Frenchman with Raymond Blanc recently? It was one of the best cooking/travel shows I've watched in ages and not just because I'd coincidentally recently travelled in the Jura and Burgundy. Raymond's enthusiasm for the regional food and wine was just so infectious. Anyway, in his visit to Lyon, Raymond made quenelles, those little light pike dumplings so famed in the region.  They were on the menu at Koffmann's, so I was inspired to start with them.

Pike Quenelle
Chef Koffmann is a sauce master. The creamy sauce cuddling the quenelle was rich but lightened by a tart vinegar and I basically licked the little plate clean. The quenelle itself had a clean fresh fish taste along with some added texture with the addition of pistachios and some croutons. But for me it was all about the sauce. My co-diner ordered a chunky terrine accompanied by a lovely lentil salad delicately flavoured with coriander and star anise. Very enjoyable.

Beef pie
The beef pie for my main course sounded pretty perfect for a cold winter evening. This dish was all about the slow braised beef cheeks cooked in a bourguignon style. The meat had a wonderful depth of flavour and was amazingly tender. Instead of a pastry topping, the dish was topped with scallops of mashed potato. And true to my experience with the chef's cooking so far, this dish was rib-stickingly rich. The duck breast that my co-diner ordered was served with a Marco Polo sauce, which was a sweet and sour concoction. Sadly, the duck was a little chewy, but again, the sauce was the highlight. Some perfect thin French fries were served with the main courses too.

Duck with Marco Polo sauce
Given that this was a special menu, there was little time to linger and we were encouraged to order our desserts from the get go. Initially I thought a classic thin apple tart would be a good way to finish a heavy meal, but when the waiter described the pineapple dessert I switched. The thinly sliced pineapple rings encased globs of passionfruit mousse and were nestled tightly in a circle, resembling the shape of a single pineapple slice. Sitting on top was a scoop of coconut ice cream. That's right - it was a deconstructed piña colada and it was a great way to finish off the meal and went some way to balancing the artery-clogging richness of the beef. The beautifully presented chocolate fondant was also delicious. Warm, gooey and chocolatey.

If there was a low point to the meal, it was one of the sommeliers who tried to up-sell us on the wine list. Since we were planning to dine on the relatively cheap side, we thought we'd go for an inexpensive bottle of wine, but the sommelier pointed straight to the Burgundy and Bordeaux section of the vast wine list. Actually, there was relatively little under £40 on the list, but we ordered a £32 bottle of Marcillac despite some discouraging words from the sommelier who described the wine as 'interesting'. Well, it did have an interesting palate, but actually it went pretty well with the rich beef pie.
Pineapple dessert

I have to give credit to the chef, who was in the beautifully lit kitchen. It's always encouraging seeing the man who's name is above the door actually co-ordinating an evening's service. You just know that he cares about the food that bears his name.

Chocolate fondant
Overall, I enjoyed my meal, although there were some hits (the saucing) and misses (the duck). I'm not sure I could eat Pierre Koffmann's food regularly (despite there being regulars there), but whenever I get another urge for a French feast I'll definitely keep him in mind. Oh that reminds me. I'll have to tell you about my favourite restaurant in Paris that I've been revisiting for 15 years now, and it's still presided over by the same Grande Dame.

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