Founded in 1967 and under the stewardship of Michel Roux Jr. since 1991, the legendary Le Gavroche was the first restaurant in the UK to receive a Michelin star and remains a bastion of culinary excellence. Head sommelier Rémi Cousin talks Douglas Blyde through the 2,500 bin cellar, and shares what to pair with the restaurant’s celebrated soufflé Suissesse.
“The great skill here is to live up to expectations – and then surpass them. Only the very great can do what the Roux dynasty has done – create an excellence which is always itself but never stales,” wrote Spear’s Christopher Jackson of Le Gavroche, which became the first restaurant in the UK to receive a Michelin star in 1974, rising to three in 1982. Le Gavroche has had huge influence on the quality of food in London, giving rise to chefs Monica Galetti, Rowley Leigh, Marco Pierre White, Marcus Wareing, Gordon Ramsay and Michel Roux’s daughter Emily, who opened Caractère, Notting Hill with partner Diego Ferrari.
Head sommelier Rémi Cousin, whose motto is, “there’s always room for improvement”, began his career as a stagier in Paris at Georges V before moving to Le Meurice. At the latter, he was handed a life-changing glass of “vanilla, saffron and quince”-scented wine by then head sommelier Antoine Zocchetto, which transpired to be Château d’Yquem 1988. He subsequently worked at Hotel du Vin, York with Xavier Rousset MS, followed by eight years at The Fat Duck. “Heston [Blumenthal] was
actually the witness at my wedding,” he recalls. He began at Le Gavroche on 4 October 2016, following an hour-long interview with Michel Roux Jr, “which passed in the blink of an eye”.
Running to over 2,500 bins accommodated wherever space allows, including the alcoves below the Mayfair pavement, the cellar
catalogue is now accessible via iPad. “For Le Gavroche, which can be compared to a religion,” this “is something of a revolution,” says Cousin. Marked with a heart are the house’s “favourite” wines which have succeeded in magnetising an influx of new guests. Representing limited stocks, these may include, priced at close to retail, Latour 1999, Margaux 1989, Penfolds Grange 1987 and Pingus 1998. “Chef Michel said, ‘put on about 50 wines’ at first, and now we have around 300 such wines.”
Cousin has an intrinsic interest in ingredients, having helped his mum make sauces from the age of six, later enrolling in catering school as soon as it was possible. Hence the care taken in calibrating wine and food matches, such as, with the famous
soufflé Suissesse with oak-rich GH Martel Cuvée Victoire Champagne; or, with fleshy John Dory with lemon butter sauce and razor clams, the inaugural 2014 Chapel Down Kit’s Coty still Chardonnay, “which brings structure and freshness”, he says. Just don’t expose him to chocolate or truffles. “My aversion to the latter always makes chef Michel laugh because I have to move out of the way when he serves it in the restaurant. I can always find truffles as a result!”
When not at work, Cousin, who trained in a circus, “my speciality being rola rola”, manages to conduct a varied life, including go-karting, paintball and playing and watching football and rugby. He is also a lover of the long lunch, though his needs are not fancy, with a sparkling memory being the picnics with his parents, “in a field in France, featuring baguettes, butter and ham, seated on blankets with my brothers and sister”.
Score: 95.3 Value: 94 Size: 98.5 Range: 94 Originality: 93 Experience: 97
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