Le Gavroche is a British culinary institution like no other. It opened in 1967 under the leadership of brothers Albert and Michel Roux. At that time, there was really nothing in Britain anything quite like it. So remarkable was Le Gavroche, that it went on to win Britain’s first Michelin star in 1974. In 1977, it became the first two-star restaurant in the UK; and finally, in 1982, it completed the hat trick with first past the post to three Michelin stars.
The restaurant menu contained a slew of classic French dishes adapted for the discerning diners of Le Gavroche. Among these were Le Caneton Gavroche (which was a meltingly rare duck poached in consommé), tarte au citron, and the famous soufflé Suissesse.
In 1993, Le Gavroche underwent change, and the old guard of customers used to the cooking of Albert Roux were very hesitant. Old Man Roux had decided that the time was right to hand the restaurant over to his son Michel Roux Jnr. Michel was (and remains) a bright spark in the world of food, and he had a bunch of new ideas to try out on the guests of Le Gavroche. But, it has to be said, there was some resistance to all this – both from the customers and the staff. Michel stood his ground and cooked his food.
When Michelin came knocking, Le Gavroche lost a star, but Roux Jnr has always maintained that, while this was disappointing, the style of food he likes to cook will not tick all the boxes that Michelin are looking for:
” … recognition would be wonderful. But I am not cooking that style of food. There are dishes that are worthy of it but my style really doesn’t suit that status.”Michel Roux Jnr, 2007
However, despite ringing in the changes, there was one thing that Le Gavroche could not shake off – there were still some customers who wanted to visit and enjoy their soufflé Suissesse. So it remains on the menu to this day as something of an anachronistic ‘signature’ that has little in common with the rest of the modern menu.
Making soufflé Suissesse
When The Times’ Adam Coghlan asked Michel Roux Jnr the ‘secret’ to the soufflé Suissesse, the answer was a succinct:
“A lot of practice – trial and error.”Michel Roux Jnr
And you know what? He’s right. Even faced with the recipe and a video of both Albert Roux and Michel Roux Jnr (in French) cooking the dish, I was still not sure on the correct route. I did the sensible thing and went straight to source. I asked Chef Michel where exactly the cheese was supposed to go:
Even with help from the man whose team cooks hundreds of these soufflés a week, I messed up the turning out four times before I managed to get a single tower of soufflé to plop satisfyingly into its moat of warm cream. The key to this part was to use a hell of a lot of butter in the mould – so much of it that a liquid puddle of it remains on the top when turned out.
Once the soufflé was on the plate looking like a cheesy Iron Age hill fort surrounded by a river of dairy, the technical challenges were not over. The recipe asks that the dish goes back in the oven for 5 minutes to brown. Albert Roux would use a salamander. Michel Roux Jnr uses an oven in the kitchen at Le Gavroche, but has used a grill in demos. I opted for the oven for the even re-rise, followed by a gentle tickle with a blowtorch for the colour. Chef Michel was very happy with my effort:
All this faff is great fun, but the result has to be worth it. And yes, it is. This dish kicks the puffy stuffing out of a standard, un-sauced cheese soufflé. That said, I would probably not order it in Le Gavroche because there are so many more interesting things to try, and I stand by the idea that the restaurant needs to have the freedom to move on from hand-me-downs from the House of Boneparte. I say make it at home, and have one of Chef Michel’s own dishes if you visit Mayfair.
Le Gavroche can be found at 43 Upper Brook St, Mayfair, London W1K 7QR. Evening booking is essential and needs to be done three months in advance to the day. Call +44 20 7408 0881.
- 45g butter
- 45g plain flour
- 500ml milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 6 egg whites
- 600ml double cream
- 200g Gruyére cheese, grated
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Heat an oven to 220˚C.
Butter 4 8cm tartlet moulds (we actually used teacups) with really an awful lot of butter (see the Albert Roux video linked above).
Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook off for about a minute. Whisk in the milk bit by bit to create a béchamel sauce. Once combined, cook for 3 mins, whisking to prevent lumps. Remove from the heat and beat in the egg yolks (to create an enriched béchamel). Season. Cover with some cling wrap or greaseproof paper in contact with the surface to prevent skinning.
Next, whisk up the egg whites with a pinch of salt into peaks that are past soft, but in no way stiff. Add one third of the enriched béchamel to the whites and combine completely. Use your soufflé mixing skills to fold (not stir) the rest of the béchamel into the egg whites until no uncombined egg white can be seen. The mixture should still be quite light and airy.
Spoon the mixture into the buttered moulds and bake on a tray in the oven for 3–4 mins until the tops start to go golden.
Meanwhile, season and heat the cream in a saucepan, and pour it into a gratin dish or into individual soup dishes.
To turn the soufflés out, loosen the edges with a small palette knife (if needed), and then turn out onto the warm, seasoned cream. Sprinkle the soufflés with the cheese, and put them back in the oven for about 5 minutes to re-rise. In a domestic setting, this will not brown them like a commercial oven will, so you can either finish them under the grill, or show them the business end of a blowtorch.