Restaurants: All for one and one for all

Gascony, home of d'Artagnan, provides an earthy alternative to the fancier French fare. Forks en garde! Photograph by Madeleine Waller

A restaurant dedicated to the gutsy cuisine of Gascony may not sound like a radical departure in London dining, but Club Gascon, in the appropriately meaty environs of Smithfield Market, serves up food as dashing as d'Artagnan, in a way that breaks the mould of the tired generically Gallic restaurants we're more used to.

Some attempts to give French cooking more contemporary appeal have been made by adding a little lemongrass here and some tempura there. One of the owners of Club Gascon, which isn't a club, has worked for his family's company, France's largest supplier of luxury ingredients from the region. And while the restaurant doesn't tamper with these or the more basic essentials - duck and offal, raw, cured and cooked - it does play fast and loose with the manner in which they are served.

Dishes are grouped together on the menu under fanciful French headings such as la route du sel (cured: saucisson, rillettes, pate, smoked salmon and caviar), le potager and les paturages (pasture, meaning duck, beef and pigeon). The idea is to pick three or four dishes from different sections in no particular order.

Foie gras features prominently, with a section to itself as well as guest appearances elsewhere. Having recently owned up to misgivings about foie gras, I had to try what my companions had ordered and admit this was where the chef, Pascal Aussignac from Toulouse, excelled himself. Duck foie gras (typical of Gascony) with piquillos, looked like a baby's fist gripping red ribbon, the pepper making a brilliant sharp, sweet contrast to the smooth liver; more duck foie gras grilled with black grapes was so sensationally delicious three of us fought over it. Also outstanding was a carpaccio of duck magret with a dressing of savory, which tasted like lemon thyme; another carpaccio of foie gras with xipister sauce - a Basque vinaigrette - draped generously over the plate in pale slices; and a heady gateau of cepes on an eggy base.

Satisfyingly good but not as exceptional was a plate of Pyrenees cheese laid in thin slices over a mound of herby salad leaves and smoked eel in a kind of spring roll of crisp pastry with horseradish cream to dip it into - it was well constructed, but the eel got a little lost inside its parcel.

Then we came to the confits and temporarily lost the plot. The cassoulet Toulousain - the beans perfectly floury, the sausage of the correct coarse but soft consistency - had with it a disconnected, tough piece of duck; a similar piece came as confit with creme fort (cream strengthened with chives). Neither had that falling-apart-at-a-touch, Ally McBeal personality. The cassoulet was particularly disappointing, not least because it's a dish you need to be able to get into your stride with (the French prefer it for lunch, to allow digestion afterwards), and this petite portion wasn't quite up to minute inspection. The chips, wedges, weren't as crisp as they could have been.

But it all ended happily, with fabulous puddings: praline ice-cream with chocolate sauce; goat's cheese and pear baked in a crisp pastry parcel, and almond pie with a little pot of pear juice beside it.

Although the Gascon's radical ordering arrangement has advantages - it allows you to try more than you normally would - it sacrifices some of the balance and rhythm of full-blown French dining, building up momentum course by course. To avoid disappointment, expect an enjoyably episodic rather than epic meal.

If you could work your way through two, three or more different glasses of wine the way you can with the dishes, the package would be complete. For the list shows the same rare devotion to the region, with a powerfully tannic Madiran, which is seldom found here, and Domaine Abotia, an unusual Basque wine. Most bottles are less than pounds 20. It seems only natural to follow this with one of the armagnacs listed with the puddings. My companions tried to go native on the pre-dinner drinks by asking for a pousse rapiere, a Gascon drink of orange-scented armagnac, which, mixed with sparkling wine, makes an aperitif. The waitress, a central-casting Beatrice Dalle beauty, looked blank but returned with tumblers of the liqueur with ice, which set off a dispute between them as to whether it was what they'd asked for.

From then on, service was informed and enthusiastic, struggling but just about succeeding in keeping the flow of food at the right pace. The room is marble-panelled Victorian and fetchingly mixes old and modern, though it is crammed with hard blue-velvet-covered chairs. And the tables are a little small for raiding each other's plates and tearing chunks off the soft-crusty bread that keeps coming.

Though no dish costs more than pounds 8, we managed to spend pounds 40 a head with one bottle of wine between three and one liqueur each. That may invite unfavourable comparisons with the cost of eating in France but nothing else in Britain quite compares

Club Gascon, 57 West Smithfield, London EC1 (0171-253 5853). Mon-Fri lunch, Mon-Sat dinner. Average pounds 30. Major credit cards, but not Diners or American Express. More regional cookery: page 76

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice