Pascal Aussignac’s Michelin-starred “temple to the gastronomy” of southwest France is housed in a former Lyons tea house by Smithfield Market – a lively enclave of Farringdon, London, famous for being the centre of London’s meat trade, which is now a go-to destination for diners of all ilks (Club Gascon being a forerunner of the food revolution in this area).
Smart yet relaxed, the clever use of “Club” in the restaurant’s name implies a friendly inclusivity. And it’s certainly Club Gascon’s aim to entertain, pamper and even surprise its diners. If it’s popular with the business crowd, it’s because it manages to be impressive yet discreet, high-end yet unintimidating.
Club Gascon is the flagship restaurant in a collection of eateries co-owned by chef-patron Aussignac that celebrate French gastronomy, wine and hospitality equally with – to quote The Telegraph – “serious intent”. And Aussignac applies as much emphasis on the vineyard as the pasture and orchard; next door is the Cellar Gascon bar, a sanctum for French wine.
It’s a classy, modestly-sized restaurant, with a traditional feel. There are high ceilings, marbled walls, wooden floors, comfortable leather chairs, banquettes and crisp white tablecloths. Low lighting and flower displays soften the setting, resulting in a pleasant, old-school ambience.
Five charming mini menus – La Route du Sel, Le Potager, Les Foie Gras, L’Océane, and Les Pâturages – offer tapas-sized plates of exquisite French food. Instantly recognisable are classic ingredients; equally appreciated are the modern, sometimes playful touches that are unmistakable when the plates come out of the kitchen.
Still regarded as the place in London to go for foie gras, there are six options on the à la Cartemenu, yet the more casual but still luxurious duck foie gras club burger is widely enjoyed. Diners also rave about the delightful crackling slow cooked egg with truffle and Aussignac often integrates more global flavours, as displayed in his wasabi Chantilly.
The five-course Le Marché menu, which changes every couple of months, is priced surprisingly reasonably given the sumptuous ingredients on each plate. For example, Roast guinea fowl, elderflower-glazed chicory, mustard and wild garlic is followed by Duck foie gras tagada, wafer and aromatic strawberries.
The wine list is composed of more than four hundred wines from the South of France and some wines and spirits are imported exclusively for the restaurant. The list is continually updated with the menus so as to complement the food.
As well as a Michelin star and high praise from the Guide, which describes the cooking as “assured and intensely flavoured”, Club Gascon has won two Catey Awards and carries three AA Rosettes, amongst many accolades. Other honours over the years include Best New Restaurant (Time Out); Restaurant of the Year (AA Guide and Good Food Guide); and Best French Restaurant (Hotel & Restaurant Awards). In 2013 it won the Test of Time award at the Tatler Restaurant Awards, for being consistently excellent. The Waitrose Good Food Guide 2014 praises Aussignac’s cuisine for continuing to be “dynamically creative” and “restlessly inventive”.