First, Le Gavroche - a wonderfully old fashioned institution in Mayfair. It comes in at number 28 in the list of world's top restaurants, and the listing also informs us that it's been around for 40 years and one loyal customer has been coming in for lunch every weekday for the past 18. And I can see why he (in this setting, it's bound to be he) would. The gentlemen wear jackets. There is a cosy bar with tartan sofas and an eclectic art collection (ranging from various pictures of the eponymous tearaway to Chagall) in which to enjoy an aperitif while perusing the menu and the list of merchandise (from the colourful plates with a likeness of Mr Roux to cutlery with handles shaped like Gavroche, it's all for sale!). This is Mayfair and the place has two Michelin stars, so the prices are hefty. But weekday lunchtimes offer the bargain of 3 courses, coffee, half a bottle of wine and half a bottle of water for £48 -- less than some of the a la carte main courses.
Our pink champagne was offered with amuse-bouches of tempura prawns and chicken liver pate on toast. Downstairs the green walls are adorned with more art and each table features an amazing animal sculpture made out of cutlery. Ours was a turkey, with fork handles for a tail and spoons for belly feathers. The numerous staff were very discrete, topping up our glasses of Pinot Blanc de Blancs and water when required as opposed to sloshing it all in in a bid to sell another bottle. Another amuse bouche of tender fish fillet in green sauce went down very well. My starter - half a lobster - made the menu seem like a complete bargain. My companion's salmon gravadlax was lovely, but he kept sneaking jealous glances at the lobster. There were warm fresh rolls with two types of butter to mop up the juices. My main of mackerel with wild mushrooms was also good, while my companion had some of the nicest veal I've ever tasted. For desert, we chose four cheeses each from a bulging, oozing wooden board. The fourme d'ambert was gorgeous, the camembert with Calvados a bit too adventurous for my taste. Then there was coffee, with a bowl of juicy cherries (a lovely alternative to after dinner mints), and offers of refills. We waddled stuffed and a little tipsy into the afternoon drizzle. This was the life.
Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street, W1K 7QR; Tel. 020 7408 0881; Tube: Marble Arch; www.le-gavroche.co.uk