24 Suffolk Road,
Tel: +44(0)1242 573449
Fax: +44(0)1242 254365
Michelin Guide: 2 stars
AA Guide: 4 rosettes
Lunch: £19.95, Dinner: £39-46
Sometimes an offer comes that is impossible to refuse, whatever the consequences. Such was the case when Vicky, a friend and my former junior pastry chef, invited me to lunch at a two Michelin star restaurant, and said she was paying.
Cheltenham is a prosperous market town, about 30 miles from Bristol, where I live. Due to the demographics of its residents, the town has attracted clusters of good restaurants such as Raymond Blanc's Le Petit Blanc. There are far more great restaurants than you would expect to find in a town of this size.
Le Champignon Sauvage is in an unlikely location, situated on a main street in a row of shops. The restaurant is brightly decorated, with striking artwork on the walls. It has a warm, welcoming atmosphere; something that is often lacking in the stuffy world of Michelin restaurants. It is a relatively small place, seating 28 covers, so the service can be attentive as needed.
Chef/owner David Everitt-Matthias, along with his wife Helen who manages front of house, have created a very special place here. It avoids all of the pretension that often goes hand-in-hand with a Michelin rating.
The lunch menu is stunningly good value. To be able to eat food of this standard, and be charged less than £20 each for three courses is rare indeed. Missing my train and arriving late, Vicky had ordered for me. Her choice was impeccable, though I would guess that anything on the menu would have been of equal standard.
As we sat down, we were greeted with a tiny amuse gueule: a little butter bean confit, with wild mushrooms. It was delicious. I started with a salt cod brandade with red mullet fillets. This was beautifully balanced. The smooth, light, salty mousse complimented the crisp, slightly sweet mullet. Vicky's wood pigeon was rich, beautifully tender, and deliciously umami. The cauliflower risotto that accompanied it was a perfect foil to the intense flavours of the pigeon.
For my main, Vicky had chosen the belly pork. This simple cut of meat was turned into an exquisite dish by thoughtful accompaniments and perfect cooking. The fat was properly rendered, and the skin glazed with chinese spices, giving an almost mirror-like black sheen. The rich and unctuous meat was so tender I could cut it with a fork, and was set off beautifully by the soured cabbage cutting through the fattiness.
Vicky's main course was the roast lamb, which was also perfectly cooked and tender.
The restaurant is well known for its sweets, which are all too often an afterthought on a menu. Being a pastry chef and an ex-pastry chef, these are obviously important to Vicky and me. We ordered the iced quince mousse to share, as well as a cheese selection. The cheeses were brought on a large tray by Helen, and were evidently provided by the incomparable Fine Cheese Company, who have an outlet in the town.
The quince mousse was very fine indeed. It was served as a small cone, and was a subtle flavour. Accompanying it was the roast, sliced pear. This was deliciously caramelised, and surrounded with walnuts that had been tossed in caramel. This was an interesting combination that worked very well.
With our coffee (well made espresso), there was an admirable selection of handmade petits fours.
All in all, this is a very special restaurant. The lunch menu is amazing value, and the cooking and service couldn't be faulted. Highly recommended.
Velouté de Navet À La Vanille
Light Turnip Soup flavoured with vanilla
Mousse de Brandade de Morue, Sauté de Rouget
Salt cod mousse with sautéed red mullet fillets
Suprême de Pigeon Ramier, Risotto de Chou-Fleur Caramelisé
Breast of wood pigeon with caramelised cauliflower risotto
Tranche de Saumon, Courge au Gingembre, Sirop de Balsamique
Fillet of salmon, marrow cooked with ginger, balsamic syrup
Pavé d'Agneau, Sauté des Crosnes et Champignons Sauvages
Roasted lamb with Japanese Artichokes and wild mushrooms
Poitrine de Porc Braisé aux Épices Chinoise, Chou Aigre
Belly of pork braised with Chinese spices, served with soured cabbage
La Sélection de Fromage
A selection of cheese
Parfait Glacé de Coing, Poire William Rôtie aux noix
Iced quince mousse, pear William roasted with walnuts
Tarte au Sucre de Mélasse, Glace de Banane
Molasses sugar tart, banana ice cream
contact details from www.theaa.com