It's not often you get the chance to eat at the restaurant of a genuine culinary legend, but chef Pierre Koffmann is just that. His first restaurant, La Tante Claire, opened in Chelsea in 1977 and went on to gain three Michelin stars, which it held for 15 years until it moved location to the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. There the restaurant continued until 2003 when Koffmann retired from cooking (or so he thought). The chefs that have trained under Koffmann read like a who's who of Britain's Michelin hall of fame: Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing, Eric Chavot, and Tom Kitchin. So it was with a huge amount of anticipation that Mrs. Nibbler and I went for dinner at Pierre Koffmann's eponymously titled restaurant.
Located in the very same Berkeley Hotel that Koffmann once cooked in, his latest restaurant opened in 2010 following the tremendous success of a two-month pop-up venture the chef ran in Selfridges department store. However, gone are the three Michelin stars Koffmann once held at his legendary La Tante Claire restaurant and gone is the clinical intensity that this level of cooking brings. Instead, at an age when many of us might be thinking of a well-earned retirement, Koffmann is back to offer us the Gascon style comfort food of his youth.
The main restaurant is in the basement of the hotel and is accessed by a sweeping set of stairs. It's a soft, muted affair that could be described as bland if you were feeling unkind. I'm not really a fan of dining in hotels but the room manages to feel distinctly separate from the main building. However, tables of kids (admittedly impeccably behaved ones) eating tomato ketchup-laden fries as well as an overheard enquiry from an adjoining table about room service were a reminder that we were very much eating dinner in a large London hotel.
The menu at Koffmann's reads like a greatest hits of French cuisine and it's a real struggle trying to decide what to order. We began with an amuse of chicken liver parfait served on melba toast, which was a decent, if somewhat heavy, start to the meal.
Mrs. Nibbler's starter of Provençale fish soup (£9) was a wonderfully rich and heady elixir, full of sweet shellfish aroma. It came served with croutons, which were spread with garlicky aïoli and floated on the top of the soup.
My starter of shellfish broth (£12) was a light, fragrant and creamy soup packed with tender pieces of langoustine, scallop and clams.
Mrs. Nibbler's main course was Sole Pôelée, Grenobloise (£40). A pristine whole pan-roasted Dover sole was expertly removed from the bone and served simply with a brown butter and tomato concassé sauce (minus the capers as Mrs. N's not a fan), boiled potatoes and broccoli. Simple, yet immensely effective when the raw ingredients are this good.
For my main course I had perhaps Pierre Koffmann's defining dish. For me, coming here without trying Koffmann's Pied de Cochon would have been a travesty but, fortunately, I've been told it's never off the menu. This seemingly simple, yet utterly genius dish of braised pig's trotter stuffed with sweetbreads, morels, and chicken mousseline (£28) has been described by none other than Marco Pierre White as the cleverest dish he's ever seen, perhaps even his favourite dish of all time. Indeed, such is this dish's infamy that during Koffmann's two-month stint at his pop-up at Selfridges, over 3,200 pig's trotters were eaten. Considering that only the hind trotters are used, that's an awful lot of pigs they got through.
A pig's trotter is boned then braised in stock with mirepoix until golden brown and quiveringly soft. It's then stuffed with roast veal sweetbreads, morel mushrooms, onions, and chicken mousseline before being poached quickly. It's then served with a glossy and thick madeira sauce and buttery pommes purée speared with pork crackling.
It's not for the faint hearted, being sooo rich it seemed fit for a Regency duke. It was such a throwback to a different era of dining and isn't so much a dish as a time machine. It had such contrast of textures with the gelatinous pig's trotter encasing soft chicken mousseline and dense pieces of sweetbread and morel. What a glorious dish this was!
Of course, no visit to Koffmann's would be complete without another of his signature dishes. Mrs. Nibbler's pistachio soufflé (£14) was about as perfect an expression of the airy dessert as you're likely to find. The voluminous and intensely green soufflé was pierced by the waiter's spoon and a scoop of pistachio ice cream was added, whereupon it melted slowly and seductively into the hot folds of the soufflé. I managed to sneak a little taste and found it to be ethereally light in texture with a fragrant pistachio aroma, almost marzipan like in its intensity. No wonder this is a classic; it was stunning.
For my dessert I asked the waiter what he'd recommend. "Tarte tatin" was the answer that came back without even a nanosecond's hesitation, "it's my favourite." With such a glowing endorsement I can report that it was indeed delicious. Buttery, sweet pastry and golden caramelised apples are one of those perfect food pairings that I don't think I'd ever tire of eating, and Koffmann's tarte tatin (£10) was faultless.
After some cups of soothing fresh peppermint tea, we're sent on our way with a parting memento of paper bags brimming with all sorts of goodies including meringues, marshmallows and caramel popcorn.
I adored dinner at Koffmann's. It's fantastic to see one of the great culinary maestros cooking food like this – no nonsense, just simple comforting dishes. This is food meant for eating and it's as reassuring and cosseting as a great big hug. Service throughout was relaxed and efficient and you're made to feel very welcome indeed. Koffmann's is unashamedly French, unfashionably classic, and a complete triumph. I can't wait to return.
Food: 9 / 10
Service: 8 / 10
Ambiance: 6 / 10