For a month, London has been the scene of a unique experience: a restaurant, crafted for the instant of a dream, ephemeral in spirit and yet possessing all the elements to live on in everyone’s minds for years to come.
In less than four days, the foundations of the gastronomical production blossomed on the roof of Selfridges – requiring 14 hours to lift, 30 hours to build and 48 hours to line and carpet – followed by 36 hours of culinary installation and 48 hours for the finishing touches, creating the perfect atmosphere mixing suspended class and nature.
Not a single person attending would have missed this for the world – either nostalgic of la Tante Claire or grasping the opportunity of a lifetime to enjoy the cuisine of one of Michelin’s best-loved stars – Pierre Koffman On The Roof is a little moment of magic come true.
Striving for the perfect unity of time, space and action, each actor plays his part skilfully for the hundred people attending twice a day:
- “6 star kitchen” Chefs, Pierre Koffmann, tasting, preparing, perfecting; Bruno Loubet, the quiet one, meticulously busy at his tasks, while Eric Chavot, on the pass, plays the catalyst between kitchen and clients.
- The fairy godmother – Claire Harrison – passing between the tables, ensuring everything is to perfection: “It looks like everyone here has been sprinkled with fairy dust. Everyone is living a magical experience.”
- The caretaker – Manager, Dawn Davies – ever watchful of the dance of each performer, tweaking their moves, fine-tuning the motions: “It’s not often that you open to full covers and it was hard, but it’s all about attitude and smiles. Everyone who is here wants to be here. People expect something extraordinary.”
- The catalyst – Sommelier, Claire Thevenot – bringing her own dream to life by working with Koffmann for the time of one magical adventure: “I have always been a great admirer of Pierre Koffman and his cuisine and this opportunity is a gift.”
- The interpreter – Waiter, Benjamin Simpson – Ever watchful of the pleasures of those taking part in the magic, ready to elucidate the Chef’s secrets at every request
The participants take their seats, and let the spectacle commence!
The opening ‘Mise en Bouche’ gave our palates a wonderful introduction to what was going to be an explosion of flavours and memories. This small savoury delicacy was a white and Spanish black puddings on a bed of cabbage pickled in red wine, vinegar, ginger and cloves accompanied by Eric Chavot’s signature tropical tutti frutti of mangoes, apricots and pistachios mixed with vanilla, ginger and cinnamon, finished with a reduction of the pickling juices.
The first act, an ode to Nature, was a celebration of what the earth and sea have the grace to offer us. The guest chef’s special Langoustines bisques with langoustines scallops ravioli was the quintessence of crustacean excellence. Every spoonful was delicate without the bitter taste that a bisque can have. The coriander added an elegant touch of natural spice, completing the bouquet. The langoustines scallops ravioli, unfortunately, added nothing to the dish.
The Fricasse of Wild Mushrooms and Snails with Bone Marrow was a true victory of nature. The snails, far from their common rubbery consistency, were tender morsels, while the bone marrow was all mellow flavour and warmth, subtly countered by the wafer thin toast to reveal its smooth texture. The sauce balanced the dish nicely, adding an appreciable sour flavour to the lettuce without overpowering the mushrooms.
The second act was an expression of all the influences that made Pierre Koffman famous: terroir, generosity, honesty and family. The first forkful of Bruno Loubet’s Daube de bœuf de Grand-mère was a one-way ticket home, back to the warmth of my mother’s traditional French cuisine of fresh ingredients and love. Rich and intense, the meat was exceptionally tender. At first, the portion of celery puree seemed a little small but the crunchy vegetables proved to be the perfect balance for the tenderness of the meat. A true traditional French comfort food dish.
The dish was served with a glass of red Chorey, Lès Beaune, Domaine Maillaird 2007, soft and fruity, well balanced with enough intensity to complement the Daube de Boeuf.
Pierre Koffman’s signature dish – Pig’s Trotter stuffed with Veal Sweetbreads and Morel Mushrooms – was the first pig trotters we’d had and they played the role perfectly. Lighter than expected, the meat was delicate and sweet creating the perfect match with the stuffing. The potato purée, the best we’d ever tasted since first discovering mashed potatoes at the tender age of three, meritted the prize of supporting actor without a doubt. Our only regret? To have experienced Koffmann’s pig trotters first. How can we ever enjoy our next sample?
The Italian red wine Valpolicella, ‘Volpare’, La Giaretta 2008 revealed to be one of the most French Italian wine, very light and soft.
The third act, was complex to say the least. Every suggested character for the role looked as appetising as the next, and asking a French woman to make up her mind – between a Gascon Apple Pie and Fresh Walnut Tart with Chestnut Honey Ice Cream – added little to simplify the task. The (French) chefs, though, were kind enough to understand this all-too-complicated mind and decided to give an equal chance to both desserts…
The star of the Apple pie wasn’t the apples but the pastry. By creating the lightest Apple pie ever, Pierre Koffman composed the perfect hymn to filo pastry. The filo leaves were so thin and crispy that they melted instantly in the mouth… As frustrating as a candy eaten too quickly! The caramel toffee was sweet and dangerously intense yet not too sugary. Maybe this ode to apples could have been more aptly called ‘Apple pie leaves’.
The fresh chesnut tart served with honey ice cream brought out all the flavours of the fresh nuts without any of the usual lingering bitter tastes, and played a wonderful balancing act between the nuts and the icecream.
For the finale, just before the curtains came down for the last time, we were given the honour of a last treat, served with coffee and tea: an impressive procession of gourmandises – apltly named greed in French – in the form of pate de fruits, Nougat, SeaSalt Caramel, Sesame Tuile, Financier, Lemon Tarte and Chocolate Truffles. Even after having experienced one of the best dishes in a restaurant, who could resist to such a plate of pleasure!
It was now time to close the curtains and for the dream to come to an end.
But as the public applauds, I was given the immense privilege to congratulate the leading actors for what had been an unforgettable experience. Stepping carefully, timidly into the kitchen, I tried to prepare myself to meet the Masterchef.
He appeared, calm, peaceful, as if nothing exceptional was happening outside of his kitchen. He offered his hand as a welcoming gesture that I shook – a bit nervously, I must admit – while I was presented my best ‘Bonjour’. I thanked him for the wonderful experience he had just offered us and how every forkful of his dishes was a reminder of home.
We exchanged a few words (in French) about our national cuisine and the pleasure of cooking just as Eric and Bruno made their entrances as well. A gentlemanly kiss from Eric and it was time for the masters to go back to where they feel the most comfortable.
And there it was. I had met the one who had been celebrating French cuisine in London for more than a decade.
Shakespeare and Moliere have found their grounds for understanding. It’s not on the stage, though, it’s in our plates, and the spectacle is a dream come true. Hats off to our magiciens suprême, Pierre, Eric and Bruno for the happiest restaurant I have ever been to.
M & D