Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

Clockwise from upper left: interiors of Le Cercle, the menus and blond wooden tables, bread and demi-sel butter, the wine cellar

The weather predicted for Wednesday was rainy which just gave us enough time to explore a bit of the King’s Road shops and then walk towards Sloane Square and up the road to the tiny street Wilbraham place (on the corner of the Anya Hindmarch shop) for our lunch reservation at Le Cercle. I had read about Le Cercle when researching on London’s best children’s restaurants. It’s one of three restaurants owned by the Club Gascon group where I had a fantastic Valentine’s day dinner in 2001. The three restaurants – Club Gascon, Cellar Gascon and Comptoir Gascon are all located in the Smithfield area of the city, while their newest addition, Le Cercle, is in the chichi Chelsea area.
The cuisine at all the Club Gascon restaurants are tapas-style and were created by chef Pascal Aussignac from southwest France way before Joel Robuchon opened his Atelier which does exactly the same thing. The other interesting thing about Le Cercle is that they have a children’s Petits Gourmets degustation lunch menu served FREE (no that’s not a mistake) from Tuesdays to Saturdays to all children aged 4 to 11 accompanied by an adult. Now, in a city like London, that is a real steal and a fantastic opportunity for your child to experience real cuisine and not be subjected to the usual kid’s menu of frozen chicken nuggets and soggy fries.

Petits Gourmets 5-course menu: top row – raviolis, black cod; bottom row – coquelet, chocolate dessert (first course pea soup not in photo collage)

We were the first to arrive at the restaurant and were seated in a comfortable booth at the end of the room. The interiors are light and airy despite the fact that the restaurant is in a windowless basement and the stylish wooden chairs with the bare tables gave the place a modern refectory-style feel. Leather-covered menus were handed to us with both a la carte and the bargain prix-fixe lunch menu of 3-courses for £15.00 or 4-courses for £19.50 (including coffee or tea). Crusty rolls were served in a rustic wooden bowl with some beurre demi-sel along with our drinks.

My husband’s prix-fixe menu: top row – raviolis, salmon; bottom row – rabbit, cheese plate

My husband and I opted for the 4-course prix-fixe option while J gladly agreed to have the children’s 5-course degustation menu which consisted of: garden pea cream with Piquillo peppers emulsion, Royan baby raviolis and celery, glazed black cod with almond puree, roast coquelet (baby chicken) and finally a chocolate souffle cake with vanilla ice cream. A chose the Royan baby raviolis with celery, organic salmon confit with lemon pulp and crumble, spring rabbit with lettuce and Piquillo pepper emulsion and the cheekily-named Tour de France assorted cheese platter (Pont L’Eveque, Camembert and Comte AOC)while I had the aubergine caviar, peppers and wild herbs, pan-fried sea bass with juicy ratatouille, grilled rib-eye steak and potato surprise and the strawberries tartare with muesli and vintage Balsamic vinegar. I know that it sounds like a lot of food but really the portions are small and even after polishing off the four courses, I could have had another little plate. (If you’re hungry, have the prix-fixe and add another course.)

My prix-fixe menu: top row – aubergine caviar, sea bass; bottom row – rib-eye steak, strawberries

Each little plate was an interesting mouthful of flavours and textures – from the dill and orange zest in my aubergine caviar to the minuscule celery cubes in the raviolis, from the crispy-skinned sea bass to the raw salmon chunks covered in a crumble of crushed pistachio and lemon zest. Our son was extremely game, tasted everything and ate most of his tiny portions and loved the saucy raviolis the most. The food was just like what we had at Club Gascon seven years ago and still as good as we remember.

While we were enjoying our lunch, the restaurant was more than half full with suited businessmen and in our neighboring table was the Italian owner of La Martina, the cult boutique of Argentine polo wear. When we finished our short dark espressos and were done, we settled the reasonably-priced bill and walked out to wet pavements and a cloudy sky. We decided to watch a film and went to the Odeon cinema on Kensington High Street to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – a perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon on a rainy London day.

Le Cercle
1 Wilbraham Place, Chelsea, London
Telephone: +44 0207 901 9999

***** Food – French tapas with interesting flavours and textures, the prix-fixe lunch is a steal and the free petits gourmets children’s menu is a great way to introduce kids to good food

**** Atmosphere – a well-designed restaurant, light and airy despite the basement location

**** Service – friendly and efficient, the food came quickly and the waitstaff were attentive and welcoming to our 6-year old

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