Sauterelle, a Jump into Flavours

GOING to a restaurant is an exciting experience. The venue, the set, the decoration, the people…you don’t know what to expect and yet you can’t wait to know more about it.

When it comes time to choose the dishes on the menu, it is like going to a toy store and discovering a world of wonders…you look forward to playing with everything.

But going to a restaurant and opting for a tasting menu that only the chef will know the composition of is the most enjoyable adrenaline rush that you can experience.

Each dish is a surprise for the eyes, each forkful is a discovery for the palate, and each plate builds expectations for the next one.

When Mr. & Mrs. @laissezfare, Mr. D and myself went to have dinner at Restaurant Sauterelle, beautifully located at the mezzanine level of The Royal Exchange, we couldn’t resist but opting for the highly recommended tasting menu. A 4-course menu for the price of 2 dishes à la carte. A bargain.

Let’s the tasting begin…

Jerusalem artichoke velouté, soft poached quail egg rolled in celery salt bread crumbs, wild mushroom & truffle purée

The first dish was an in-depth introduction to Robin’s cuisine: an adventurous and successful way to mix flavours at their best. The Jerusalem artichoke velouté gave a very good kick to the dish, restoring honour to this underrated vegetable.

LF: It was a little explosion of flavor, with the rather sweet flavor of the Jerusalem artichoke poking its head out first, and then a second layer of flavor added by the subtle aroma and taste of truffle, followed by the wild mushrooms. The quail egg was cooked perfectly, ever so soft and oozing with a brilliant orange interior when broken. Everything worked together and not a note was out of place in this little opening number.

Pan-fried diver scallops, toasted cauliflower in textures, purée & pickle, apple-caramelised suckling pig belly with soy lime glaze

Stepping away from the traditional bacon, Robin used pork belly to marry the scallops and balance the taste. The pork had a nice crackling but the scallops, presented rare, were lacking of a kick despite the pork. On the other hand, the cauliflower purée added a nice addition to the dish and our Maestro managed once again to bring a common vegetable, in this case cauliflower, to the next level.

LF: While the scallops had been seared perfectly, they were actually quite mild in flavor on their own. However, when taken together with the pork or any of the exceedingly delicious vegetable elements, the flavors interspersed with each other and the whole thing came alive on your palate. The suckling pig had a good crackling as well, which helped with texture variation, and the cauliflower part of the dish was sublime. The little citrus kicks from the apple and lime were subtle, but ever-present, and also added an interesting and pleasant sensation to the dish.

We opted for a Gavi wine (2008 Gavi, La Giustiniana, Piedmont, Italy) to go with the first two courses. It was a rather typical but good example, being very dry, crisp, clean and precise; it also opened up a bit in the glass to reveal a round fruit profile. It went nicely with both the amuse bouche and the scallop/suckling pig combo.

Smoked foie gras cooked sous-vide, poached fruit, grapes, quince & prune glaze, walnut toast (the dish was served at the table under a glass bowl of oak smoke)

The dish was a culinary success at two levels. Served under a glass bowl of oak smoke, the foie gras played the perfect diva, with elegance and attitude to seduce its guests. Marinated and cooked in an unusual way, the foie gras was very light and easy to stomach, yet still retaining the unique sweet and smooth taste that makes it so popular.

LF: Chef Gill’s take on foie gras was certainly interesting. It had been marinated and then cooked sous-vide and the result was an exceedingly light and delicate foie gras. The smoke added more of an olfactory dimension to the dish. The fruits and accompanying walnut toast were perfect bedfellows for this little wobbly morsel.

Squab pigeon cooked medium-rare, with the legs confit & caramelised with juniper, pan deglazed with Muscat salted grapes, served with celeriac ‘coleslaw’, watercress, white truffle & foie gras shavings

The whole dish was most probably the most interesting in terms of the combination of flavours. The pigeon was well-cooked and, once again, the celeriac – this time presented as a ‘coleslaw’ with watercress – added a good kick to it.

LF: I loved the salted Muscat grapes, and thought the carmelization on the pigeon was well executed, giving it a slight sweetness that goes so well with the gaminess of the bird. My favorite part of the dish was actually the celeriac ‘coleslaw’, which to me looked like pasta.

The sommelier suggested a tawny port instead of the done-to-death Sauterne pairing. We were game but unfortunately neither myself nor @dewilded thought it worked very well with either dish as it was simply too overpowering and concentrated to blend well with some of the rather subtle flavours. That said, on its own, the 10-year-old Warre’s Otima from Portugal was perfectly fine, exemplifying an abundance of caramel, dried fruits and a dash of honey.

Halibut coked sous-vide with vanilla oil, grilled day boat squid, pine nut sauce vierge, fennel, dill potato gnocchi & avocado

The halibut was served with a very lemony guacamole that balanced the dish very well, supported by the pine nut sauce and the fennel.

LF: The issue I had with the dish was that the flavour of the vierge sauce, which was delicious, somehow didn’t integrate well with the fish – they seemed to remain too distinct from each other.

Roast cod, smoked eel, rouille, polenta, parsley fregola, poached salsify, sea greens, bearded monk & samphire

The roast cod was a bit too bland and didn’t match the level of flavours Robin had developed and achieved in the previous dishes. However, the polenta was smooth and rich, and the olives added some bitterness. The smoked fish was the most interesting part of the dish, which balanced the lack of the flavours of the cod.

LF: The cod had been well cooked – moist, flaky, just firm enough – but it didn’t have that much taste on its own, and I didn’t think the golden polenta crust added much to the flavor profile. The parsely fregola was also on the bland side for me, and the other vegetal elements didn’t add enough of a punch to make it an interesting dish. The real saviour of the dish was the smoked eel, which was truly excellent and livened up the pasta and fish with its deep flavor whenever you got a bite of it.

To accompany the fish dishes, we had decided upon a 2007 Chablis 1er Cru (Cote de Lechet, Domaine Bernard Defaix, Burgundy, France), which did what it said on the tin. It was a little steely, and had a very fresh citrus fruit spine to it and a good bit of length.

Pyrenees lamb rack, caramelised sweet bread, kidney, slow cooked belly, butter bean, salsa verde, smoked aubergine, kalamata olive

This dish revealed Robin’s love for tasty food and it was a true explosion of flavours and textures. The tender lamb and smoky aubergines played the usual perfect couple while the kidney and the slow-cooked belly added different levels in term of tastes and textures.

LF: It was a very engaging and concentrated dish, and I thought it had been executed fantastically, from succulent sweetbread to pink and flavorful rack of lamb, to surprisingly palatable offal, to masterfully cooked and marinated vegetable components. It was a tour de force.

Beef fillet, slow-cooked cheek tarragon mousse, bone marrow & shallot gastric, parsley grilled leek

The beef filet was disappointing and didn’t create the same reaction than the other dishes did. The meat didn’t have a taste worth remembering and the leeks were too dry and chewy.

LF: The fillet itself was simply lacking in flavor and had been cooked to beyond medium. The grilled leek was also lacking in inspiration and it felt like the whole thing would have benefitted from a little bit of sauce to tie things together. The slow-cooked beef cheek, tarragon mousse and bone marrow concoction was good, however, and was neatly encased by a round slice of shallot.

Our chosen foil for the lamb and beef courses was a 2005 Rioja (Cune Reserva, Spain) suggested by the sommelier. As with so many red Riojas, it was a very satisfying red wine, offering plenty of ripe fruit, softness and smoothness, with the oak being pretty well integrated.

Poached pear, cardamom popcorn, white chocolate & grue de cacao panna cotta

The poached pear and the panna cotta worked very well together. However, I couldn’t really taste the cardamom popcorn even if it added a funny touch to it.

LF: The poached pear was simple but delicious and flavorsome. The cardamom popcorn also definitely worked nicely as a sideshow. The white chocolate and grue de cocao panna cotta was luscious, with a perfectly smooth texture and good depth of flavour.

Banana and walnut cake, peanut brittle, caramelised bananas, peanut butter ice cream

I have always been a huge fan of banana and walnut; it was my favourite cake when I was a kid, so it could hardly go wrong. The peanut butter ice cream worked very nicely with the cake and balanced the strong banana taste. This dessert was once again a good proof of how much Robin loves playing with texture and flavours

LF: The banana and walnut cake was moist and infused with both flavors in equal proportion. Being American, I have a particular penchant for peanut brittle (it’s a bit thing in some places in the US), and thought this example was excellent. But by far the best thing on the plate was the peanut butter ice cream, which was simply to die for.

Rhubarb, walnut crunch, vanilla, mint, rhubarb ice cream

The dessert didn’t come with any flavours worth remembering. It was fresh and light but didn’t match the other desserts that we were presented that night. The walnut crunch didn’t manage to create a strong enough texture to make it more appealing

LF: To me, its fresh, zingy tartness was very refreshing and softened well by the lovely ice cream. It was the dessert in front of me, so I had a good deal of it since my companions preferred to focus their attentions elsewhere.

Madagascan dark chocolate Easter egg, salted caramel, muesli, cardamom truffle

This dessert is a collaboration between Paul A Young, the chocolatier, and Head Chef Robin Gill to create the most indulgent Easter dessert.

Served on a “nest” of Robin’s homemade muesli of toasted nuts, dried fruits and sweetened parsnip crisps, the egg is created with 64% Madagascan dark chocolate inlayed with edible 23 carat gold leaf and champagne and filled with sea salted caramel. To add on the decadency, it was served with white chocolate and cardamom truffles

The only thing I can add to the excellent description written by LF below is that we all left the room thinking that the egg would be the perfect breakfast. The combination of chocolate, muesli, fruits, etc., all balanced at their best, would make everybody look forward to the most important meal of the day!

LF: It was a foundation of homemade muesli comprised of toasted nuts, dried fruits and toasted parsnip crisps provided multiple textures – some chewy, some crunchy, some soft – and an array of flavors that ranged from grainy, to nutty, to sweet and slightly salty. The walls were buttressed by palate-awakening cardamom truffles, and this magical little mountain was capped by vanilla snow.

On my way to Sauterelle, I didn’t really know what to expect and, after a quick look at the menu online, I wasn’t sure about the different dishes. But once we stepped into the restaurant with such a particular atmosphere and set-up, I started seeing things in a very different way.

And when the plates were served, the first forkfuls were a true revelation in terms of flavour and well-balanced textures. Robin is definitely a talented chef who knows how to leverage the tastes and the essence. Each dish is an expression of his love for fresh ingredients and, like a kid in the playground, you feel that he is having fun in his kitchen!

LF: Chef Gill came out of the kitchen at the end of our meal and struck me as a clearly talented, ambitious and passionate young chef who had been integrating all of his various cooking experiences into his culinary repertoire.
I was very impressed with the food at Restaurant Sauterelle: it was varied, interesting, for the most part very flavoursome, and cooked with a high technical ability. The service was attentive and pleasant throughout, the sommelier had been very helpful and friendly, and most of the pairings she helped us to select had worked well.

Congratulations Robin for this fantastic lesson about flavours and creativity!

Pictures are courtesy of Laissez Fare

Restaurant Sauterelle
The Royal Exchange
Mezzanine Level
London EC3V 3LR
www.restaurantsauterelle.com

Sauterelle on Urbanspoon

9 thoughts on “Sauterelle, a Jump into Flavours

  1. However done to death sauternes pairings are, it seems they work for a reason. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    Great to see some food and wine matchings!

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