After almost a decade of absence, Pierre Koffmann is at last back with a new restaurant. A brief appearance at the helm of a hugely successful pop-up restaurant at Selfridges last Autumn sent bloggers and writers into a frenzy, cementing the public's desire to see Koffmann back in the kitchen. The man is a legend and has set tongues wagging with his recent re-emergence on the London restaurant scene, at the same location that previously housed the second incarnation of ‘La Tante Claire’, The Berkeley Hotel.
This time around, cooking is less ostentatious and more condusive to the hearty traditions of Koffmann's Gascon heritage. Good old fashioned rustic cookery, no pomp or fanfare, instead bold dishes that remain unapologetically simple… the kind of food that sticks to your ribs and warms your insides. Comfort food, like no other. The menu is peppered with classic Koffmann dishes like scallops with squid ink, pigs trotters stuffed with sweetbreads and morel mushrooms as well as the infamous pistachio souffle. My starter of cassoulet of escargot and girolles with mashed potato was served in a miniature Le Creuset pot complete with a thin garlic croute. The escargot had a wonderfully smokey taste and without the usual lashings of garlic butter, it made it possible to actually taste them and they were superb. A bite of my friends scallop with squid ink starter served up a contrast of delicate white scallop, soft and sweet with a jet black slick of glossy squid ink.
A mini portion of the pig's trotter was served to us as a special course courtesy of Pierre Koffmann and although personally I would never have chosen this dish for myself, it was absolutely delicious and incredibly delicate, perfumed generously with morels. My main course of rump of lamb with couscous came in thick slices and cooked to medium-rare perfection. Glistening with meaty juices and every mouthful wonderfully succulent and tender. The couscous accompaniment spiced with middle-eastern flavours, was a tad heavy on the cinnamon and cumin but nothing I couldn't handle. My companion chose calf's liver ‘Lyonnaise’ the liver served in manageable slices was outstanding with a crispy shard of salty bacon against creamy mashed potatoes laced with cream and butter. A mini fry-basket of golden frites wrapped in this week's ‘Le Monde’ newspaper looked out of place on the table, but proved to be a welcome treat with crispy, salty fries that you only wish McDonalds could produce!
Our chosen desserts had to be the pistachio souffle and dark chocolate mousse. There is not much you can say about Koffmann's pistachio souffle that hasn't already been said… but ‘glorious’ would be a pretty apt term to describe the feather-light, pale green souffle that receives a spoonful of ice cream through the centre as its served. My chocolate mousse was the stuff of legends, not tainted with unecessary harsh liquor, just sinfully chocolatey and devillishly good.
Your average starter at Koffmann's is priced at around £8-10 with main courses starting at £17 and desserts from £7, which represents the value that we all need in belt-tightening times like these. Knightsbridge is quickly becoming THE destination for consummate foodies with Gordon Ramsay's Petrus around the corner, Marcus Wareing also residing at The Berkeley and Daniel Boulud's ‘Bar Boulud’ already open at The Mandarin Oriental and Heston Blumenthal soon to arrive at the same site, competition has never been so intense. But Pierre Koffmann is a silent hero, shunning the limelight in favour of the familiar heat of the stoves, demonstrating the same exceptional technique and skill that made him the legend he is today. His reign over London will no doubt secure him a place alongside culinary greats such greats as Bocuse and Escoffier.
Is it possible that we have at last receded to the glory days of restaurants where Chefs were in their kitchens, where book deals and TV shows were not the priority and where eating out was about experiencing good, honest cooking at justifiable prices? Let's hope so. If predictions are to be believed, Koffmann's is set to become the darling of the London restaurant scene so I would book whilst you still have the chance!
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1X 7RL
T: +44 (0)20 7235 6000