Recently the LetThereBeBeer campaign had been making rather obvious suggestions for food and beer pairing, so when they invited me to Le Gavroche it seemed a little at odds with their previous output. For example, in one ‘advertorial’ their frontman Tim Lovejoy did a world beers pairing session in a Thai restaurant and offered up Heineken and Cobra! I was therefore keen to know more of what they stood for.
So with the opposing forces of Le Gavroche and LetThereBeBeer in mind I was curious – one is a high-end, double Michelin-starred restaurant with the remarkable Michel Roux Jr at the helm and the other offers Cobra as a world beer fronted by a former football pundit. I was aware of the blazer and smart shoes policy and as much as I disdain of such Victorian values it was lucky I heeded the message. Tim Lovejoy didn’t get the memo and was offered an over-sized blazer which made him look like a sixth-former; still, he’s a top chap and instantly likeable.
Table for eight in the round and a selection of wine and liqueur glasses… whoa hang on, I thought we were only here for the beer!
I got the tasting notes and was seated next to the jolly good egg Stephen Livens acting as the LTBB’s sommelier that day – he has serious pedigree and is a genuine expert working for the British Beer and Pub Association so we were in good hands.
Warning – this restaurant is ultra fancy. Traditional, but fancy.
Michel’s beautiful little choux buns filled with gruyere cheese were ultra cheesy and Stephen matched them with a Vedette Extra White – pure, clean and reasonably subtle. It was in a ‘normal’ beer goblet.
Next was a Liefmans Cuvee Brut, a cherry beer fermented for up to 3 years in aged oak barrels, paired with an astonishing Seared Tuna with Thai influences – cracking combo, great, but served in a brandy glass!
The very nice Michel approached our table and enthused about the current craft beer scene – “How are you getting on with the glasses?” he asked, “I think it makes a real difference serving them in the right glass.”
“I don’t” I said “I look good with a pint glass or a beaker, you’ve completely lost me with the brandy glass.”
You could have heard an olive plop in a Martini, but I’m fairly traditional and I genuinely don’t think it makes the slightest bit of difference. As long as it’s made of decent glass and either a beaker for bottle or pint for cask then I’m utterly happy. I found myself swirling it around the glass like a retired judge in his oak-panelled country club – stop it, it’s beer, Jim, beer.
Yes these guys had a point; you don’t serve Dom Perignon in a shoe, but a £3 bottle of fairly easy-to-find beer in a champagne flute? Nah.
It went on – the food was flawless and the pairing spot-on, apart from a very wrong Fuller’s Honey Dew matched with a Fuller’s Honey Dew and lime sorbet – so balanced it cancelled everything out entirely.
Butcombe Rare Breed with a Braised Veal shin and Duvel (yup that old chestnut) put with an Arabian-spiced stonebass were the highlights.
And then, in a Champagne Flute came a Rochefort 8 at 9.2 per cent paired with a Guinness cake with coffee cream & chocolate malt ice cream – champion in any vessel, no need for the dainty.
Stephen was extremely good company, as was Lovejoy; Stephen had exceptional beer knowledge which, as a relative newcomer to beer and food pairing, made utter sense. Next time, however, I’m bringing my own beaker (if Michel will have me back).