Very good to Excellent (89-92)
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Below Average to Average (80-85)
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My first Michelin Guide was that of Europe's Main Cities 2000. In 2000 I was just starting to discover the world of Michelin starred restaurants. It was also around that time that I started visiting London more frequently. As soon as you start eating in Michelin starred restaurants you start hearing the names of the culinary legends. In some cases you hear the names of chefs that are fortunately still around and whose food you can still experience but in some cases you're too late - the chefs have retired or they don't cook at their own restaurants anymore. In London there are 2 of these latter chefs. I believe you can guess who they are.
One is of course Marco Pierre White. When he served his last meal at The Oak Room in 1999 I hadn't even heard of him or his restaurant and as I said I was just starting to get to know Michelin starred restaurants. In those days dining in a 3 starred restaurant seemed unachievable and unaffordable. The other one of course is Pierre Koffmann. When his restaurant La Tante Claire was awarded its third star in 1993 my culinary learning curve had just gone past kebabs and chips.
As most great British chefs Pierre Koffmann started out at the Roux brother's Le Gavroche - in 1970. In 1972 he became head-chef at the other Roux restaurant, The Waterside Inn. Within 2 years the Waterside Inn was awarded a Michelin star. In 1977 The Waterside Inn was awarded a 2nd Michelin star and in that same year Pierre Koffmann opened his own restaurant La Tante Claire at Royal Hospital Road in London.
La Tante Claire was awarded its 1st Michelin star in the first year after it opened. Even nowadays this is quite exceptional. But it didn't stop there. La Tante Claire was awarded it's 2nd star in 1980 and its 3th star in 1993. After Michel and Albert Roux Pierre Koffmann was the third chef to be awarded 3 Michelin stars. Marco Pierre White was the fourth chef with 3 stars in 1995. In 1993 La Tante Claire must have been the only 3 star restaurant in London (Le Gavroche lost its third in 1993). When La Tante Claire closed in January 2003 it still held 2 stars. I am not sure when the restaurant lost its third star but I guess it must have been after the move from Royal Hospital Road to the Berkeley Hotel in 1998. (update: La Tante Claire lost its third star in the 1999 guide)
And at the Berkeley Hotel it was where Pierre Koffmann opened Koffmann's in July this year. And the Berkeley it was where I went last Sunday for lunch!
The menu at Koffmann's seems uncomplicated and at first sight has simple dishes on it. You think you are in a bistro, but looks can be deceiving... As a starter I had the black pudding with apple and my husband Xavier ("X") had the Heritage tomato salad with a goat's cheese and basil sorbet.
The black pudding with baked apple was served just as it was described on the menu - black pudding and apple served on a round piece of toast. Perfectly simple and simply perfect. The black pudding was home-made. The spice mixture of the black pudding reminded me of mixed spice and it was gorgeous. The tomato salad X had, was lovely. The goat's cheese and basil sorbet went really well with the tomatoes - of course it would. After the starters I already started to realise that this wasn't just simple food but simple ingredients cooked to perfection by a great artist.
Anyway, the mains. I had the rabbit with mustard and X had the braised beef cheeks. When I tasted my rabbit it really came to me. Even though Koffmann's aims at simplicity, the dishes express clearly that they were created by one of the grand masters of the French cuisine. If this was the simple version of what Pierre Koffmann can do, I shudder to think what the food at La Tante Claire must have been like. I was well and truly moved. That last time I was served such an excellent rabbit dish was at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir earlier this year. The presentation of Koffmann's rabbit was slightly more rustic but it was classic French cooking at its very best, nonetheless. Needless to say that the beef cheeks were a dream too.
For the dessert I had the Gascon apple pie with Armagnac and X had the extra bitter chocolate mousse. My apple pie was very elegant and tasty. The perfect end to a perfect meal. X's chocolate mousse was light and rich at the same time. Especially liked the bitter orange compote that was hidden underneath the mousse.
Pierre Koffmann strikes me as a chef who no longer needs to put his ego on a plate. He is comfortable to let the ingredients shine. Like a great winemaker who merely aims to let the terroir speak. After dessert we were fortunate enough to get a kitchen tour by Eric Garnier, the very competent and charming maitre d'. We even got a glimpse of Marcus Wareing's kitchens (which are closed on Sundays). The Berkeley hotel is very lucky to have both Pierre Koffmann and Marcus Wareing under the same roof. Two outstanding chefs following different avenues of thought.