Michelin-starred Club Gascon is approaching its 20th birthday. Since 1998, chef patron Pascal Aussignac, in his long, thin dining room, has served City types and foie gras enthusiasts — the two aren’t mutually exclusive — reliably and with great success. AA Gill once called it a “fabulous surprise”; in 2002, The Telegraph’s Jan Moir wrote that a tatin was “so divine it’s almost embarrassing.”
But these reviews were years ago and, as Aussignac says, food has moved on, and pockets in the nearby City aren’t quite as deep. Or dipped into at lunch time, anyway. He feels now is the time for change. After closing for refurbishment in August, the Smithfield restaurant opens for lunch service today (Tuesday.)
Next door, the more casual ‘small plates’ bar has relaunched, while the dining room has had a serious overhaul. It remains narrow and panelled and French, and is still very un-bistro, still formal; but feels lighter and more airy. There are splashes of colour. Downstairs, the kitchen has doubled in size. Aussignac is particularly enthusiastic about his new fridge — which, of course, will help with an “innovative” new menu.
The menu is divided into three parts, so as to allow the cooking to simultaneously pay homage to Gascony, as per the original concept; “acknowledge the transitional period dining is in”; and look to the future, which is “about vegetables.”
The first section, entitled ‘Gascon’, is for everything Aussignac has been heralded. It is heavy in foie gras, veal sweetbreads and lobster, and dishes such as Sturgeon a la Bordelaise feature, at least on the 'prototype'. The second part, ‘Season’, the Frenchman describes as the “here and now”, but more than simply what’s available from nature; it’s keeping hold of meat with an eye to eating less of it: snails, Dover sole; things like beef fillets and mallard.
The triptych is rounded off with ‘Garden’, which is vegetarian. There are dishes such as cep pie; truffled potato spaghetti; and slow-cooked duck egg with plankton.
“The idea is to be related to what’s happening,” Aussignac tells Eater London. “We’re 20-years-old now. This three-way menu is a metaphor for our time. It is past, present, future. We want to keep the essence of Club, while understanding that to stay relevant, we have to evolve. It’s a tricky balancing act.”
And, with all this, the chef is not hiding the fact that he feels it’s time to get two stars: “We want to push the boundaries. We’ve held one for 16 years. It’s time to give it a go. You know, restaurants are struggling to fill up at lunch time. We’re not a bistro, and traders eat at their desks. We want to offer more and still excite people. We have a very good head chef in David Salt.
“Yes, it is a good name for a chef.”