Eric Chavot is one of those French chefs whose return to these shores after a stint abroad we are celebrating in spades. Like Pierre Koffman and Bruno Loubet, similarly lost to London for a while and recently reclaimed, he earned his Michelin stars years ago but now prefers to serve classic, affordable cuisine in an informal brasserie setting – how blessed can we get?
Comfort food was on our mind when we checked into Chavot’s brasserie adjoining Mayfair’s Westbury Hotel this week. He is particularly known for his choucroute garnie, and we expected to accompany this feast of sausages and sauerkraut born in north-eastern France with an Alsace riesling. Instead, sommelier India Salcade surprised us with a stupendous white from the opposite end of the country.
Le Grand Blanc is a curious mix of grapes – chardonnay with the rarely seen rolle and grenache blanc – but it is a revelation. Big and yet fresh at the same time, it is the most seductive white we can remember tasting this year. It more than stood up to the smoked pork belly and bangers and played well to the winey sauerkraut(actually, a bit too winey – we prefer our sauerkraut the traditional way – a little sharper and well-flecked with caraway seeds).
We also missed the meaty frankfurter which is a staple of choucroute in Alsace, although well done Eric producing the turned waxy boiled potato which is also an essential, and invariably tastes better than any boiled potato you’ve had in Britain outside the Jersey Royal season.
Talking of Jersey, that was where the plump, briny oysters came from, although they were served in the Bordelaise manner with a little crepinette sausage. With them came another lovely white from the south – an Entre Deux Mers from Chateau Deville. It’s easy to forget it was the French, rather than the Australians, who thought of blending sauvignon with semillon – this confection of 80 per cent sauv and 20 per cent sem was just the ticket. We missed those little slices of pumpernickel that come with oysters in France, but the home-made bread was great, and so was the generous pat of butter.
The fact Chavot is not truly a traditionalist was borne out by the starter which earned raves when the restaurant opened earlier this year. Deep-fried soft shell crab is hardly French, even if you serve it with aioli, and these little beauties came from India. Deliciously crisp, though, and delightfully served on a board topped with French newspaper, accompanied by yet another really sumptuous wine from the south. Chateau la Coste Bellugue from Provence, proved more powerful than its blush of palest pink suggested, with cabernet sauvignon and syrah punching up the usual mix of cinsault and grenache.
Ile flottante for dessert could have used crackly toffee on the meringue instead of in the creme anglaise, but the baba au rhum was just about the best we’ve ever tasted. And the room is truly beautiful-elegant but not a bit stuffy.
Brasserie Chavot, Conduit Street, London W.1.
(0)20 7183 6425