Review: Le Champignon Sauvage
"Any less than three courses and you would be regretting it"
Few chefs have worked quite as diligently, or so determinedly, for quite as long as David Everitt-Matthias. Having established Le Champignon Sauvage alongside his wife Helen inside a subdued and unshowy plot on Cheltenham’s Suffolk Road in 1987, David has yet to miss a service. Whilst many chefs are restless, keen to shift from kitchen to kitchen absorbing skills and ideas, David seems quietly content on honing his craft inside his home and office of thirty years.
Winning his second Michelin star in 2000, David shows little sign of slowing down as he enters his fourth decade as chef-proprietor of Le Champignon Sauvage. He published his third recipe book, Beyond Essence, in 2013 (foreword by Pierre Koffman – the previous two featured Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, respectively), and the accolades continue to pile up – David won the 2014 Good Food Guide Chef of the Year and enjoys undisturbed rave reviews from national and local press alike, year on year.
So – what of the menus? Is this a man who is comfortable in his success, perhaps resting on his laurels? No, as the spring menu confirms, this is not. It’s David’s ability to strike a balance between ambitious culinary technique and humble, locally-sourced ingredients – whilst never compromising on flavour or concept – that makes him the envy of all other Cotswolds chefs.
Our amuses-bouches were as entertaining and confusing as you might expect: a light squid ink sponge dotted with cod roe and oysterleaf, which dissolves on the tongue before you get a chance to fully appreciate what’s going on; a malt cracker with Jerusalem artichoke; a shot of rich, earthy celeriac velouté served with a single truffle arancini, tasting like a dramatic and seductive interpretation of the world’s best cauliflower cheese.
Onto the menu proper, and the fun really starts. Pig’s trotter appears as the most ‘foraged’ and closely-sourced of the offerings – lightly wobbling under the knife and packed to the rafters with piggy richness, the foot comes stuffed with snails, ox tongue and nettles, and accompanied by potato cream and wild garlic. It’s a remarkable dish, combining an unusual diversity of textures and flavours and still tasting like the constituent parts were built for each other.
It’s almost pointless to describe any of the ingredients independently, as each of these dishes only really works as a whole, but my partner’s scallops were some of the largest and meatiest either of us had seen – they came with soft, cured pork cheeks, salsify and leek purée, brought together with an onion dashi (or broth, to you and me), served at the table.
Each time you think David can’t get any more adventurous, or bring together any more daring ingredients with such style, he outdoes himself again. Crisp skin of turbot is cooked in pine salt and served separately from the pearly flakes of flesh, livened up with the confident, salty punch of miso and rounded off with caramelised cauliflower and a scattering of sunflower seeds. Wood pigeon is cooked pink, and the rich game flavour is reinforced with comically miniature turnips, then offset with salty mountain ham and sourdough gnocchi.
I know what you’re thinking – a two Michelin star place in a pricey neighbourhood, with a menu as impressive as this – you’re looking at serious wallet damage to come and enjoy the food, right? Astoundingly, David and Helen offer a three-course menu, available at both lunch and dinner, for £34 per head, and a two-course option for a frankly ridiculous £27 – which I’m going to go out on a limb and say is one of the lowest (if not the lowest) priced two-star meals available in the UK.
Having said that, any less than three courses and you would be regretting it – one of the highlights of the experience was silky, thin slices of mango atop a modest rectangle of ‘thai spiced cream’, with a thai green curry sorbet, bursting with ginger, coconut and lemongrass. My irritating and, at times, frankly rude nut allergy means that I’m unable to fully report on the desserts, but from the looks on the other side of the table, I’m fairly sure that the acorn delice with hazelnut sponge and mocha sorbet does the job.
With the wealth of high-quality produce, organic farms and forage-able environment surrounding Cheltenham, it would be a damn shame if the town didn’t have someone like David Everitt-Matthias. Food trends have come and gone, the business environment has changed and competitors have been established then gone broke, but Le Champignon Sauvage remains – and with the flawless food, superb service and remarkable pricing on display, long may it remain.
Images © Lisa Barber Photo