Restaurant Review: Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham
One of only eleven double Michelin awarded restaurants in the UK, outside of London, Le Champignon Sauvage showcases flavour combinations and technique brilliantly.
Based in Cheltenham and run by husband and wife team, David Everitt Matthias (heading up the kitchen) and Helen (running the front of house), the eatery has simplicity, hard work and a love for quality ingredients at the forefront of its success. David told me that he only ever planned to have the restaurant where it is for a few years but has stayed since he opened in 1987. Though he is comfortable where he is physically, his cooking is the opposite; taking efforts to be frugal (thanks to the financial crash soon after opening) his style involves pairing simple, cost effective ingredients (he was foraging long before it became popular) and pairing them with more luxurious ingredients and unusual flavours. A crisp and flavoursome canapé of squid ink sponge with Cointreau was an example of this.
The a la carte menu changes seasonally and the set lunch menu is updated every three weeks so that David’s chefs can exercise their creativity and freedom. He believes in nurturing young talent and helps as much as he can with competitions they enter as well as appearing on TV himself (Saturday Kitchen), providing it doesn’t interfere with his kitchen. David proudly informed me that he has worked every day of the five day a week service since opening and I think it is his determination that makes the restaurant the success it is. As well as holding the two coveted Michelin Stars, the eatery also has 4 AA Rosettes and two stars in Harden’s Guide.
My dining partner, Nick, and I popped along for lunch one Friday lunchtime and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. After a warm welcome we took a seat in the small lounge/bar area and sipped on a gin and tonic (champers for Nick) upon a brown leather sofa. I admired the mixing of art styles sitting on the walls, while we sampled the canapé and made our food choices, before being shown to our table in the restaurant. The carpeted dining room was comfortable with light wood panelling on the lower half of the walls and a lavender/grey colour painted above. Again there’s a lot of colourful art on the walls in a variety of styles, which I was regularly admiring. Our table was in the corner away from the windows, which faced the street – though you can’t see in from the outside. Large grey lampshades provided soft lighting that the natural light couldn’t reach and high backed chairs offered a comfortable throne throughout. There was no music playing so it was conversation led but I think a little something in the background adds to the atmosphere.
Enough about the décor, I go for the food! An appetiser of cauliflower panna cotta with an apple and hazelnut salad arrived and was cool, fresh and light, offset by the nut. We also chose a bread and I opted for a delicate brioche with bacon and shallot, which tasted as scrumptious as it sounds.
My first course was ‘dived scallops, roasted lemon emulsion, burnt Jerusalem artichoke and liquorice purée, globe artichoke’ and it made my taste buds very happy. Gorgeous plump scallops were complemented well with the crunchy artichoke and gently flavoured purée and emulsion. The presentation was elegant, the flavours perfectly balanced and the artichoke and liquorice (which I wasn’t looking forward to but was intrigued about) were well handled, creating a very well put together dish.
Nick opted for ‘breast of quail, mushroom blancmange, mousseron tea, watercress cream.’ The tea was poured over the dish at the table and Nick described it all as delicate and intricate, showcasing creative flair and technique. He said there was a nice balance of flavour in the earthy mushroom, deeper quail leg taste and lighter breast flavour. The interesting ingredient pairings filtered through to the main courses and Nick loved his choice of ‘roasted wood pigeon, butternut squash, black pudding and chocolate ganache.’ The colourful dish had deep, earthy flavours mixing with the sweeter butternut squash to uplift the rare pigeon breast. Nick said the dish was very moreish with lots of texture (a rolled samosa, thinly sliced squash) and wonderful chocolate flavours coming through. He couldn’t fault it.
I opted for the ‘Winchcombe venison, celeriac and lovage cream, walnut and granola’ and loved the combination of textures on the plate. Crunchy apple thins and walnut granola opposed the smooth celeriac, and the richer flavours of the venison, mushrooms and gravy were uplifted by the sweeter elements. The granola added a sweetness that I wouldn’t expect but found that I really wanted it. I didn’t leave a single morsel on the plate, in fact, neither of us did – there were no fatty bits, no unwanted ingredients and everything had been clearly thought out – again incredible ingredient pairings.
The service was OK – fast and efficient and the wine choice (Charles Vienot, Pinot Noir) went really well with the red meat dishes. The waitress explained that the house wines are carefully chosen for their quality and also have good prices and I would agree!
We are both cheese lovers and I have a sweet tooth so we decided to share a raspberry dessert followed by a plate of cheeses. After we had chosen our cheese selection from the extensive trolley (30 options from France and England) we tucked into a ‘raspberry and roasted white chocolate iced mousse, raspberry and basil sorbet.’ It looked incredible – lots of red shades on a dark grey plate with a few green basil leaves dotted on. Crisp white chocolate encased a firm mousse and balanced out the sharp berry flavours well. A raspberry jelly had the perfect consistency and Nick loved the sorbet but I found the basil a little too strong. We both enjoyed this dish with its sweet, fruity, light and fresh flavours.
With our cheeses we had lightly toasted thins, an oaty wholemeal roll and some thin, crispy home made crackers. We opted for a mix of strong cheddar, soft goat’s, soft blue and a burgundy soaked soft cheese and loved the mix of strong flavours, richness and texture. We would have liked some fruit or chutney to complement the flavours of the cheese but the simplicity was fine.
Overall there is a relaxed, friendly, family feel to the restaurant and an afternoon or evening would never be wasted here sampling the most delicious ingredient combinations. It may not have the exclusive feel or luxury setting that other two Michelin star restaurants have, but I go for the food and I was happy!
In a nutshell
A foodie gem in the middle of Cheltenham, Le Champignon Sauvage offers up well thought out dishes with fantastic flavour pairings, expertly cooked and intricately presented.
Address: 24-28 Suffolk Rd, Cheltenham GL50 2AQ / 01242 573449
A weekend in Cheltenham
I enjoyed a weekend trip to Cheltenham (stayed at both Tewkesbury Park Hotel and Ellenborough Park Hotel) on the train via Cross Country Trains, which services England, Wales and Scotland. Seated in first class I was treated to some hot breakfast items chosen from a menu, a cup of coffee and a relaxing, comfortable trip in a calming atmosphere with really friendly staff on hand to help whenever required.