Dining at Koffman’s is a bit like eating in the ante-chamber of a giant billiards room in a London gent’s townhouse (because I’d know all about that, you see). The edgy feeling that behind one of the doors, is a bustling, incredibly fun dining establishment bursting with vim, vigour and gluttonous diners throwing claret down their gullets by the carafe-load.
The entrance is deflatingly unglam and the only part of the restaurant that looks vaguely like a French brasserie. You walk immediately past a hostess desk onto the upstairs of a split-level, dimly lit dining room, painted light taupe and off-white, all olive-green chairs and statement flower arrangements. It feels distinctively like the lobby of a grand, modern hotel. Not unattractive, by any means, but not quite the expected environment to be quaffing rustic French Gascon food – no matter how refined.
The dining room unfortunately benefits from no natural light and the host who greeted us was as stiff as the linen we were eating off of. Charming, polite, overly attentive, with a gurning, somewhat creepy smile hinting at post-Ecstacy lockjaw. Our romantic table for two soon felt like a romantic table for five and any hope of psycho-analysing or verbally deconstructing the dishes between ourselves rapidly vanished as a team of waiters hovered around or stood dangerously near our patch pretending to rearrange little breads in baskets.
But let’s not kid around, no one comes here for the gladioli centre pieces. Koffman is a living legend. his pigs trotter is constantly name-checked in every “Signature Dishes of the World” round-up article and ever since watching him make slivers of tagliatelle form a squid on Saturday Kitchen, I have been besotted.
The little breads – perfectly arranged – are rich and buttery in the French way, a small sourdough yeasty and beery, a brioche almost basting in honey flavours.
I began with the signature squid, calamars façon bolognaise, in which the tagliatelle is thinly sliced slivers of delicate squid coated lightly in a thick, rich, salty, juicy ragout of the tentacles and wings almost ground into a soft pulp with brandy and tomatoes. Three spoonfuls and my plate is clean, my belly is en-route to 50 Shades of Orgasm and I am staring hungrily at Mario’s dish of escargots, swimming in puddles of Normandy butter and topped with pungent bone marrow scoopings. I drink a luscious Sancerre Blanche Vignes Henri Bourgeois 2011 – which tastes of papaya and melons.
A complimentary dish of scallops – sliced into pancake-thin roundels and nestled around a slick of aromatic squid ink puree – and two glasses of bubbly are brought to the table as an apology for cocking up our booking. Apology accepted. What was bizarre was to back the apology up with a small basket of complimentary French fries, stodgy and over-salted, as a random after though. Unnecessary, a total departure from the menu and not even as good as MacDonalds… Why?
Mario has pig’s trotter for a main, a hulking hunk of a hoof, glossy and slicked with a jus gravy, stuffed with morrels and chicken mousseline, the dish as flavourful, indulgent and delicious as a bath of foie gras – a standout star on this already stellar menu. I make the wrong choice with the Duck a L’Orange – dry and chewy, it is also slightly overdone. Unforgiveable in an establishment such as this, and I wish on the spot to have stayed with the Tante Claire signature staples that made Koffman famous.
A Domaine Le Roc des Anges biodynamic Grenache, Carignan and Syrah 2011, with supple, silky and smoky body washes away any tears the duck might have left. As does the arrival of dessert time and my first whiff of the cheese trolley (it is my life’s mission to document the great cheese trolleys of the world. This one is small, but exquisitely stocked…)
The pistachio souffle that emerges triumphantly from the kitchen like a luminous green puffy crown of eggy wonderfulness is a statuesque pudding of note. A quenelle of perfect pistachio ice-cream pokes its head from amidst the souffle like the Titanic rearing from the murky ocean. We gobble the lot in four seconds flat, missing the point entirely and looking as far removed from sophisticated French diners as possible.
Finally I get my hands on the cheese trolley, served by our host, who by this point appears to have mellowed almost as much as the stonking Brie I take a giant wedge of. I enjoy hazlenutty Comte and a Tome de Savoie, a smelly-as-teenage-boy-socks Munster and a bleu de brebis.
The Cognac trolley, where bottles of honeyed Armagnacs and fine liqueurs jostle eagerly for attention, loosens our jaws to the point where I am in danger of causing a scene, if only to liven up the gaggle of comatose middle-aged gastronomes surrounding us, mumbling into their soups and comparing natty ties and britches.
Thankfully the bill brings me back down to earth. Well into the £200 mark – and whilst this was a special occasion, I still feel I could have had equally as good a meal, in a more convincing and relaxing environment, for less.