Features 2 minutes 08 February 2024

Farewell, Le Gavroche

After its final ever service, we pay tribute to one of Britain’s most iconic restaurants

At The MICHELIN Guide Ceremony Great Britain & Ireland 2024, which was held on Monday 5th February, the Chef Mentor Award was presented to Michel Roux. A recognition of the role Michel has played in the careers of countless top chefs, it was a fitting award for a chef whose restaurant, Le Gavroche, has influenced not just the chefs who worked there but the industry as a whole. Here, we pay tribute to Le Gavroche and its enduring impact on British gastronomy.

The London restaurant scene of today is one of the best there is, a culinary beacon worthy of one of the great cities of the world – but without Le Gavroche, it wouldn’t have been possible. To study the UK’s culinary history is to discover the defining importance of Le Gavroche over and over again. It was a truly special place when it opened in 1967 and it continued to be special up until its last ever service.

Le Gavroche was exactly what you imagined it to be: rich, luxurious and proudly French. It was, in many ways, the stereotypical high-end restaurant – and it fit that mould so perfectly because it helped to create it in the first place, to define gastronomic excellence in this country. Le Gavroche’s history is bound up with that of The MICHELIN Guide itself.

Two generations of Le Gavroche teams
Two generations of Le Gavroche teams

Founded by brothers Michel and Albert Roux in 1967, Le Gavroche was featured in the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Great Britain & Ireland in 1974 and remained there ever since. When it received its third Michelin Star – the highest honour in global gastronomy – it became the first British restaurant to ever achieve the feat.

Michel and Albert’s legacy was quickly secured, and together they remained titans of the British dining scene for years. In 1986, when Michel went to run the similarly lauded The Waterside Inn, Albert took sole control of Le Gavroche, before seamlessly passing the baton to his son, Michel Roux Jr, five years later. As the restaurant closed its doors, Michel Jr had been in charge for longer than even his father. Throughout his tenure, he was a regular presence in the restaurant despite his other commitments, shaking hands and chatting away with guests.

Together, the Roux family created an experience that will linger long in the memory of anyone who visited. The word iconic is egregiously overused, but Le Gavroche is a restaurant truly befitting of the term. For decades, it has been the place that countless young hospitality professionals have looked up to. There are so many chefs across the country who owe their careers to Michel, Albert and Michel Jr, including long-standing Executive Chef Rachel Humphrey and high-profile names like Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Pierre Koffman, Monica Galetti, Marcus Wareing, Rowley Leigh, Paul Rankin, Steven Doherty and Jun Tanaka.

Several of our current Michelin Inspectors have never forgotten their first visit to Le Gavroche. Even after eating in top establishments all over the world, the Inspectors still felt a shiver of delight when they descended the stairs, took their seats and glimpsed the menu of renowned French dishes. Everyone has their favourite, whether it be the technically impressive hare royale, the simple pleasures of the sorbet trolley or the ever-present Soufflé Suissesse – a dish that has often been copied but never replicated.

It is thought that the key to longevity is reinvention, a constant evolution of style. Le Gavroche bucks this trend, instead achieving culinary immortality through impeccable skill and determined consistency. When you have dishes as well-loved as these, there’s really no need to change them. Besides, the familiarity is part of the appeal – everybody comes here for the classics and the chefs duly deliver.

People come here, too, for the little details that make memories extra special, whether it’s the silver table ornaments or ‘the twins’ Ursula and Silvia, making you double take as they greet you at the top and bottom of the stairs. The plush, elegant dining room and the traditionally formal service are similarly part of the overall appeal.

The world has become more informal in recent years, something that’s been naturally reflected in our restaurants. One of the delights of eating out today is that everything is more accessible and relaxed, with the focus on food over formality. That being said, a city like London should have room for every type of restaurant and every approach to dining, something for every occasion and every mood – and that should surely include the old-school approach at Le Gavroche.

It is a restaurant of a style we may never see again, and it will undoubtedly be missed. These classical dishes taste all the better for the touch of formality – something just feels right about eating the Soufflé Suissesse in a place like this. The service and surroundings act as perfect mirrors of the rich, decadent cooking. Le Gavroche is one of the few remaining places you feel like dressing up for, out of respect for the Roux family and what they’ve achieved.

Many restaurants have been a success, some can even claim to have been influential, but very few can say they shaped an industry like Le Gavroche. For its enduring influence on British cooking, dozens of chefs, hundreds of restaurants, thousands of diners and, indeed, The MICHELIN Guide, can be thankful.


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