Sunday, 17 August 2008

Le Champignon Sauvage

Ever since devouring David Everitt-Matthias's book, Essence, whilst exploring Whitstable last autumn, I've had a crazed desire to visit the author's restaurant in Cheltenham.

We decided to make the most of our trip to Cheltenham so turned into a mini holiday. Everyone we spoke to in Cheltenham before we visited the restaurant had the same reaction. Amazing food. But terrible atmosphere. We put this to one side, dismissing them as idiotic locals. But of course they were right!

Le Champignon Sauvage is focused purely on the end product. The food is the star of the 2 Michelin starred show. But this is at the vast expense of everythng else. It's almost as if they are being obtuse about the whole thing.

As we walked in we couldn't help thinking that we were in the wrong place. We sat down in the waiting room which made us feel like we were in a cross between a dentists and an Indian takeaway.

The menu read beautifully. Full of interesting ideas that we hadn't encountered before. Cowie and I consulted heavily with the waitress before deciding to have scallops followed by skate for Cowie and rabbit and pigs' tail caneloni followed by zander for me. I chose them because I would never cook them at home. This a rule I am trying to live by when it comes to ordering in restaurants.

We were ushered through to a dining room that was as quiet as it was floodlit. We were surrounded by the posh and aging population of Cheltenham who actively disobeyed the strict no mobile phone rule that is printed on the menu like they do at golf clubs.

Cowie's scallops were delicious, but not the best we've ever had. They were accompanied by an intriguing combination of licorice and artichoke. Big flavours for a couple of little blobs of fishy flesh.

My rabbit and pigs' tail dish was stunning. Layers of flavours that I found very hard to decode, but completely loved. Fascinating. This is why we came here. This is what they do best. This is what got me excited when I read Essence. This was awesome.

Cowie's skate was good. But it was a bit stingy and greasy. It needed to be meatier. Skate is one of our favourite fish but this didn't live up to our expectations.

I ordered zander more through curiosity than a desire to eat it. That said it was an interesting dish that was of more interest to the brain than the mouth. Again it was quite hard to unravel and just like everything else was presented with great style.

Feeling a bit wary of the bill and not feeling the love for anything on the menu we decided to feast on petit fours washed down with a cup of iffy espresso. We staggered back to our BnB with their words of wisdom ringing in our ears. They were completely right - the food is brilliant, if a bit inaccessible, whilst the atmosphere is morgue like. With the lights being so bright and the room so unfriendly nobody speaks above a whisper. It's something we haven't experienced before and resulted in us breaking out into spontaneous laughter on a couple of accoassions to see if we'd get told off!

I'm delighted we've dined here - as its somewhere I've wanted to go to for ages. It brought us down to Cheltenham and introuduced us to the brilliant restaurant Royal Wells Tavern.

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