Comptoir Gascon, London EC1
wonderfully unpretentious taste of
really enjoying this current movement
towards robust, rural regionality,
featuring carefully sourced local
produce which also takes advantage
of the changing seasons. Here in
London, right opposite Smithfield
Meat Market, is le
which specialises in food and wine
exclusively sourced from the South
West of France. Le Comptoir is owned
by Vincent Labeyrie and chef Pascal
Aussignac, who also own the immensely
popular Club Gascon, Cellar Gascon
and Le Cercle.
a relatively small space, with rough
hewn honest wooden tables, plenty
of exposed brickwork and, of course,
the counter to one side where there
is a marvellous display of rustic
breads, sophisticated patisserie,
country cheeses and seductive chocolates.
Shelves on the opposite wall are
groaning with cans of foie gras and
bottled vegetables, as well as wines
from the SW French regions with names
like Saussignac, Pacherenc and Irouleguy.
It's rus in urbe, par excellence. Dining
in the Deli has become quite the
thing recently - we enjoyed ourselves
last month at Carluccio's new Caffe in
Esher, which also has a well stocked
Italian version of the same idea.
menu is simple and written in a kind
of restaurant Franglais, with essential
French names and words linked by
English conjunctions. Who could resist
the English translation of Charcouterie (£6.50)
into "Piggy Treats"? We
couldn't, though billed as one of
several plates "to share",
they could have madesharing easier
in practice. But breaking your bread
together on the wooden table top
is all part of the fun, as was fighting
over three plump steamed
oysters snuggling warmly under round
blankets of tasty crepinette stuffing
(£4.50). The Piggy Treats including
some drop dead gorgeous ham as well
as various types of sausage, and
it fills you up, so watch out!
like Club Gascon, the menu is divided
into departments Vegetal, Mer and
Terre. The difference is that the
dishes are much more rustic and filling.
This time we settled for Terre,
in deference to the Market opposite.
Perhaps when I return, which I definitely
will, I shall try Mer dishes
like the grilled squid with a barley
and tomato confit (£11), or Piquillos
and brandade de morue, (also £11)
made from that wonderful dried salted
cod you see hanging up outside shops
The Terre selection
includes the famous Cassoulet Toulousain
(£12), Duck confit £10), and Seven
hours cooked lamb shank! (£12). However,
we thought it would encourage chef
Laurent Sanchis, if we went for two
dishes from his daily blackboard.
They came out with alarming swiftness,
given that piggy treats need time
to settle in the tummy.
friend is very English about
certain things and prefers his meat bien
cuit with only a hint of pink.
Somehow the French can't quite bring
themselves to agree with such heresy,
and his duck was quite rosy, which
suited me since he was more than
usually generous with the bits he
passed for me to sample. My slow
cooked oxtail had been taken off
the bones and came pressed together
gently on a bed of mash, not quite
a parmentier, but more honest and
very delicious. We had a side
order of Piperade Basquaise, marvellously
rich in flavour and texture, and,
oh dear, a plate of hand cut chips
fried in goose fat. They were spectacular,
but I did wonder if I was going to
make it home in one piece afterwards.
After all that, we only had room
to share one little tarte au citron.
It was sheer perfection: wobbly custard
with a glossy sheen cupped in the
shortest, crispest pate sucre.
more good news: all the wines on
this small but characterful list
are available by the glass: so we
tried two whites, the aromatic and
classic dry Irouleguy from Xuri Dansa
and Alain Brumont's fruitier and
also slightly sweeter Gascogne AC.
The red Cahors Cosse Maisonneuve was
dark and brooding and went well with
the heavy meats.
is a place I could hang out in most
happily and to be frank, it was better
than many an excursion to many a
similar bistrot in France itself. Dine
Online Highly Recommended.
Mould, October 2005
Charterhouse Street, London EC1M