Gauthier Soho: Impressed, but not wowed (September 2014)

Just minutes from the sex shops of Soho is not perhaps the most obvious place to site a high-end French fine dining restaurant. Diners enter Gauthier (eponymously named after the head chef) through a discrete black door on Romilly Street and find themselves amidst an oasis of calm, a notable contrast to the outside world. We were seated on the ground floor, just one of five tables, with others being located throughout the rest of the townhouse. With such few diners (admittedly all the tables in our room were full), one should – and we did indeed receive – attentive and professional service. Nothing was bad about our experience at Gauthier, but nonetheless we did not come away with the view that we had to return. Some of this may have been a function of the location (attempting to get a taxi home after was a thoroughly painful experience), but the food, while good, was not ground-breaking. Both my comrade and I went for the tasting menu, me the omnivorous one and my comrade the vegetarian one. Tasting menus should normally allow for a chef to demonstrate their skills to the utmost, but we saw little originality across the dishes we sampled. If I wanted to create an ‘original’ or inventive tasting menu then I certainly wouldn’t start with foie gras, also include scallops, a risotto and conclude the mains with a steak. All were competently executed, but there was utterly no sense of boundary-pushing. Indeed, the only one of my dishes that really stood out was the sea bass, perfectly prepared and enhanced with seasonal greens and a hint of balsamic. My vegetarian comrade was similarly underwhelmed: an ‘Isle of Wight tomato’ is still, ultimately just a tomato, whose taste was not enhanced by stuffing it with tofu, while her main (which came at the same time as my steak) was a notable anti-climax, comprising just two pieces of gnocchi and a lot of garnish. On the plus side, the wines were a success, paired differently with the food for me and my comrade, and generally selected from less mainstream regions. The broader list also looked well put-together and would merit further perusal. In the final analysis, tasting menus with paired wine are never going to be cheap experiences, and if you are paying up, then it is worth going for something better than Gauthier.