It’s been a good few months for restaurants. Two ones, one two, one three. That’s Michelin stars, by the way, not me trying to start a dubious music career. Yes, my wallet hates me right now, but man have I eaten some good food.
At Alain Ducasse I was introduced to bacon bread; possibly the best invention since, well, sliced bread. Could life get any better than this fougasse, studded with bacon and smeared with butter? Yes it can, actually. Le Champignon Sauvage kicked off affairs with a bacon and shallot brioche which was out of this world. My mum always tells me off for filling up on bread, but I couldn’t resist going back for a second. Okay, and a third as well.
Equally stunning was the walnut and blue cheese cookie that appeared as one of the two canapés; a perfect mouthful of umami and satisfying textures. The squid and cods roe that accompanies it is less endearing, the texture a little too spongey for my liking. A pre-starter of lovage and courgette set cream topped with parmesan, black olive crumb and flax seeds offers up a huge amount of flavour for such a little bowl. It’s brilliant.
We’re dining from the set menu (which, by the way, at £34 for three courses is outstanding value) but I veer onto the à la carte for my starter after spotting a pigeon dish which has somehow been crafted from my very deepest desires. Get out of my head, LCS. Pigeon breast so rare it almost flies into the dining room is joined on the plate by a pistachio pastilla and cherry in a multitude of forms. It’s a roaring success, as is our other starter; a cauliflower and cumin soup with beautiful, warming spice and the inspired addition of homemade Bombay Mix which I openly admit to nicking handfuls of at every opportunity. Whilst we’re on the subject of confessions, Simon, I had a bite of your bacon bread when you went to the toilet. I hope you can forgive me.
I declare my main of pork belly, served with pear and walnut, “the best plate of food I’ve ever eaten”. And that wasn’t just the Blanc de Blanc talking. It manages to be beautifully refined and skilled whilst simultaneously being a plate of delicious comfort food that you want to eat from the minute your eyes spot it on the menu. The pork is perfectly cooked, the pickling delicate enough to add flavour without dominating affairs, and it’s all brought together with a rich, complex sauce that has us close to licking the plate. Rabbit is another beautiful main, with confit shoulder, leg and a sausage packed with flavour and perfect against the sweetness of carrot.
For dessert I head back to pistachio land, this time appearing with raspberry in a tart. To accompany there are candied pistachios, glazed raspberries, raspberry purée and the pistachio ice cream. God I love this place. Apple cheesecake is delicate in flavour and served with a blackberry sorbet that is deep in both colour and flavour. To finish come the most lovely plate of petit fours, which reduce us to squabbling and bargaining over how to split them.
What I love most about Le Champignon Sauvage (and there are many things) is their ability to craft a menu of food that you really, really want to eat; full of cooking which appears simple but is full of complexity and technical brilliance. It’s little wonder that this place has held it’s stars for so many years. It is truly outstanding and I cannot wait to return.
Le Champignon Sauvage is on Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, GL50 2AQ. WEBSITE.