Comptoir Gascon, north side of Smithfield, is a long-time Barbican gourmet bistro neighbour (opened in 2001). It is also one of Michelin starred Pascal Aussignac’s Gascony eateries and has held a Michelin Bib Gourmand since 2008 (‘Bibs’ are awarded for simple yet skilful cooking under £28). With so many new bars and restaurants opening around us it’s easy to be distracted from established classics such as this.
Highest quality ingredients are sustainably sourced from small Gascony producers. Poultry is “Le Comité Renaissance” certified (highest standards for ethics and quality).
Thoughtfully chosen wines showcases South West France, especially less well-known Gascony wine makers.
Décor is rustic – exposed brick, dark wood shelving displaying wines and plants. We visit early evening, joining several other tables of diners – from individuals to small groups.
Following a refreshing glass of crémant de Loire we start with: juicy baby ravioles with mussels in delicately curry spiced mouclade garnished with thin crispy fennel ribbons, accompanied by a glass of Buzet Chateau Loustalet blanc 2015; also, the often-praised piggy treats – Bayonne ham, firm succulent yet light confit sausage, soft melt-in-the-mouth black pudding and saucisson, accompanied by a glass of Cahors Clos la Coutale 2016. Starters are priced between £8.50 and £13.75. Wines by the glass are £5.50 – £11.50.
Mains: Duck burger in a brioche bun with piquant Basque tomato sauce, caramelised onions and salad (£9.75). French fries cooked in duck fat (£3.75). Also, my personal favourite, cassoulet Toulousain, made with Pascal Aussignac’s heart-warming, velvet-smooth recipe using duck leg, Toulouse sausage and Tarbais beans (larger and thinner skinned than haricots) £16.50. For non-meat eaters there are some fish dish choices – such as pan fried cod, cabbage, carrots and caramelised onions £16 or whole sea bass, piperade £19.50.
Desserts (from £4.50 to £9.50): we share three: crème brulée, chocolate sauced profiteroles with ice cream inside, chocolate fondant with pistachio ice cream. Dessert wines (glasses £4.50-£9) are the perfect accompaniment – Côtes de Gascon “Soleil Gascon” 2014 and Banyuls “Les Clos de Paulilles” 2015.
Wine list: French, good range – more than fifteen of each whites and reds, lots of choice around £30 which for a central London restaurant, represents excellent value.
Whites: Chapoutier, La Ciboise 2016 from Luberon at the lower end (£27) and a decent sounding Sancerre at £40.
Reds: Lighter end – Cotes de Gascon and Gaillacs. Bergerac, Chateau Tour des Gendres £29 looked tempting. More extravagant full-bodied reds include Bordeaux and robust grenache-syrah based southern reds ranging in price from £22 to £54. Towards the top end of the list a Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage £49 is sure to be good.
Fronton, Chateau Plaisance 2016 £31 has real character – a neighbour tells me – with a good fruity flavour, fulfilling the chilled rose promise of summer in a bottle.
Comptoir Gascon sells a selection of delicatessen goods – including home-made duck confit, cured meats, terrines, oils, chocolates, cassoulet and an extensive wine list (they do home deliveries too). Other items are available to order – see website for more information.
Comptoir Gascon, 63 Charterhouse Street, EC1M 6HJ Tel: 0207 608 0851 www.comptoirgascon.com
Opening hours: Lunch Tues to Fri 11.45am-2.30pm, dinner 6pm-9.30pm Closed Sun & Mon.
Delicatessen and wine shop open Tues to Sat 11.45 to 7.30pm