Take the stunner of a room, a long, high-ceilinged space formerly (and briefly) The Gallery at The Westbury, the Mayfair hotel that the restaurant is part of but discrete from. Flatteringly-lit by twinkling chandeliers above a glorious mosaic floor, with a small, chic bar at the front and seafood counter looking onto the kitchen at the back, it's just the kind of room I like, and can't imagine anyone not liking, to eat in; elegant but informal, welcoming and warm.
The menu's right up my street too, the kind that at first glance looks a little 'so what?' because nothing leaps out, until it dawns on you that that's because you'd happily order all of it. There are no alarms and no surprises here, just all your brasserie staples - oysters, parfait, steak tartare - with a couple of modish interlopers like soft-shell crab and ceviche to keep things current.
A party of three - myself and two very elegant femmes d'un certain âge of my acquaintance Lyn and Vicki - we started off with a dozen oysters to share. Advertised as rocks, some appeared to be fines de claires, which I minded a little. If it seems ungrateful of me not to appreciate receiving ostensibly superior oysters to those ordered, let me say in mitigation that I have always preferred the full-on snog-with-tongues of rocks to the refined peck-on-the-cheek of fines de claires, while accepting that there is a time and a place for both. That aside, they were completely delicious and very attractively served, with accompaniments of shallot vinegar in a china oyster shell and crepinette, little patties of peppery veal sausage for crumbling on top. Great value too, at under £2 a piece.
I was a little ambivalent about my starter proper of steak tartare; something of a Tartar when it comes to tartare I was curious to see what 'mustard dressing' might bring to it. The answer was a piquancy - of course - and creaminess that while perfectly pleasant didn't particularly improve on a classic. There was exceptional flavour to the beef mind you (rump from Aubrey Allen, the chef told me later) and it was generous in quantum for £9.50 - Vicki's main course serving at £15 even moreso - although neither size came with anything, no toast, or fries, or salad, which I thought odd.
Lyn's ceviche was unimpeachable, translucent slices of scallops in a beautifully balanced marinade of lime juice and chilli, and we all enjoyed the basket of sourdough bread with its moreish bitter, dark crust. Her main of tiger prawns with chickpeas and chorizo was a hit too, the large prawns split in half and given a smoky char from the Josper grill.
Although I'll admit to having suffered slightly from plate envy, it was quickly dispelled by my own main course of choucroute garnie. Served in a cast-iron casserole dish it was more garnie than choucroute, and none the worse for that, a mini-mountain of pork - belly, back bacon, sausage, shoulder, oh my - concealing a tangle of glossy sauerkraut with a couple of potatoes and carrots thrown in for good measure. In his wonderfully obsessive 1989 essay 'True Choucroute', reproduced in The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten calls choucroute garnie 'a dizzying, almost inconceivable gastronomic summit'; I think he'd approve of this rendition.
Only I had room for dessert, a not unusual state of affairs, and my Mont Blanc was a soothingly light end to a rich, comforting meal. Like the steak tartare, this was Eric Chavot's take on a classic rather than a textbook version of it; I liked the replacement of pureed chestnuts with chestnut parfait and the addition of black-cherry sauce, but purists might not. You'd have to be dead inside not to love the presentation though, in a beautiful heavy-based glass bowl.
Brasserie Chavot is not perfect; there is definitely room for tweaking. Service for example was friendly and unhurried, but a used aperitif glass stood empty on the table until late in the meal, and one main course came a little after the others (which was apologised for, but serving everyone at the same time is fairly basic stuff). These might seem petty quibbles, but like a spot of red wine on a brilliant white tablecloth, little things stand out when everything else is so accomplished.
But as my friend had known I would, I liked Brasserie Chavot; I liked it a hell of a lot. I don't see how anyone could fail to. It's a lovely room to eat in, the food's fantastic, it's very good value for money and it helps that the chef is a real character. Go, be seduced, have fun, then tweet about how much you liked it so I can say, "I knew you would."
Brasserie Chavot, 41 Conduit Street, London W1S 2YF Tel: 020 7078 9577 www.brasseriechavot.com
Posted by +Hugh Wright