From fancy and formal to loud and loveable in 48 hours. To find out which one’s right for you, read on…
THE LOWDOWN: Gauthier Soho: Trading Pimlico for Soho, Alexis Gauthier has left the Michelin-starred Roussillon (where he remains a partner) to open a new restaurant on Romilly Street. Situated on the former site of Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House, it promises refined French cooking with an emphasis on ‘les legumes’.
Giant Robot: Farringdon’s Match Bar will definitely be missed but its quirky new incarnation looks set to be just as popular. It’s a self-styled American/Italian bar-café-deli-diner, just across the road from The Zetter (where Bruno Loubet is still cooking up a storm). The menu mixes meatballs, spaghetti and sliders with daily specials, platters and Polpo-inspired cicchetti – bitesize snacks starting at 82p each.
THE LOOK: Gauthier Soho: Set inside a well-kept Georgian townhouse, there’s a wine shop on the ground floor and two private dining rooms tucked away upstairs. (One, the Games Room, seems a little out of place with its vintage posters and slot machines, but it’s sure to please the corporate entertainment crowd). We were seated in a small dining room on the first floor with only six tables, a handsome fireplace and a suitably sophisticated colour scheme. (Think inoffensive neutral colours and crisp white linen). It’s a little bland for our taste but the Michelin inspectors seem to love a beige backdrop so perhaps it was designed with them in mind. There's no background music, which some people will appreciate, but it did mean the room felt a bit 'stiff' early on.
Giant Robot: There’s banquette seating, exposed brickwork and funky lighting at ground level, with a sunken bar and semi-open kitchen in the centre. The space has an urban warehouse feel to it – smart enough for Clerkenwell and 'cool' without trying too hard. Lighting is low and, on our visit, the place was packed with the EC1 after-work crowd. The only problem is noise – a room full of hard surfaces and after-work drinkers does get loud. Perfect for lunch or drinks-and-snacks with friends but perhaps not for a first date.
THE FOOD: Gauthier Soho: The menu is divided into small ‘plats’, rather than starters and mains, so diners can essentially construct their own tasting menu of three, four or five courses (priced at £27, £36 and £45 respectively). There’s also a full 12-course tasting menu (and a fully vegetarian option) priced at £70. On our visit during their soft opening, dishes were slow to come out so we worked our way through the excellent bread basket, which included a crisp pain de compagne and a tasty wild garlic and Parmesan roll.
From the ‘plats’ we chose, highlights included delicate herb ravioli with broad beans and thyme; red mullet with tender squid rings and confit tomato; asparagus with a rich beef jus; and (for dessert) a light Paris Brest filled with praline cream. Each dish demonstrated a lightness of touch and, as at Roussillon, the ingredients were treated with respect. That said, some of the flavours were a little timid. The least successful ‘plats’ included a perfectly cooked but dull fillet of sea bass and a sickly, chewy Louis XV. The highlight of the evening was an indecently good wild garlic risotto – a vivid green and deliciously pungent delight, topped with a Parmesan crisp.
Giant Robot: As at Gauthier, you’ll need to be walked through the menu. It’s hard to know how much to order but the staff are clued-up and happy to give advice. The eat as much or as little as you like approach is a wise move in EC1, where young City slickers favour tapas, share-able platters and bar snacks. Highlights included spaghetti with well-seasoned meatballs; sliders (snack-sized meatball burgers – too cute); deliciously messy giant prawns with garlic and chilli; and a retro ice-cream sandwich with gooey choc-chip cookies (made on site) and pistachio ice-cream. Less successful was a slightly greasy ‘lemony lamb’ special and a sloppy New York cheesecake that should have been baked. Food comes out when it’s ready (like tapas) and it’s all fresh, tasty and easy to share. Don't expect anything fancy and don't be afraid to order more if you're still hungry. If you've got room, don't miss the huge Baked Alaskas, flamed at your table. (Watch your eyebrows!)
THE DRINKS: Gauthier Soho: Our wines were chosen by the charming sommelier, Roberto Della Pietra, (also ex-Roussillon). Highlights: a crisp Côtes de Duras Sauvignon and, with dessert, a sinfully sweet Pineau des Charentes. The list boasts over 400 bins, with plenty for Francophiles to choose from.
Giant Robot: Check out the back of the menu for ‘giant beers’ and wines by the glass, carafe and bottle. The cocktail menu is still in the works but the boys behind the bar know their stuff and served up some zingy Moscow Mules and, on request, a perfect Dark & Stormy. The huge jugs of (free) tap water are a nice touch but they are all spiked with cucumber which might not be to everyone’s taste.
THE VERDICT: Gauthier Soho: It's barely been open a week but Gauthier Soho already feels like it could win a Michelin star. The West End location will undoubtedly work better for Alexis than Pimlico, with walk-ins more likely and an ever-present pre-theatre crowd to feed. The dining room is a bit formal for our taste but it's a suitably low-key backdrop for some serious flavours. While not all of our dishes were mind-blowing, they were all expertly executed and showcased Gauthier's passion for quality ingredients, especially of the green and leafy variety. If you had a hot date with a vegetarian, this is where you would go. The prices are too steep to make it a regular treat, but as a one-off foray into fine dining in W1, it's definitely worth a try.
Giant Robot: After the fuss and formality of Gauthier Soho, the buzz and chaos of Giant Robot was a welcome return to the real world. Drinks flowed, food came out hard and fast, and a young team kept everything running smoothly. If you've got clients to impress or a date on your arm, head across the road to the Zetter. If you're in desperate need of cocktails and something to soak them up, this is the place. Yes, it's loud and it feels more like a bar than anything else, but the food is good enough on its own to keep you coming back for more. Grab a giant beer, some spaghetti, some sliders, maybe a Baked Alaska and then tell us what you think.