Pierre Koffmann, a legend. Head chef of La Tante Claire, amongst others, he reigned supreme in London's culinary heyday, gaining a coveted three Michelin stars alongside his contemporaries of Michel Roux and Marco Pierre White. It has been quite some time since Pierre has actually been behind the stoves, but for a limited time only, to tie in with the London Restaurant Festival, he opens Pierre Koffmann on the Roof. Located on the roof of Selfridges, it's a "pop-up" like no other. With stunning views and a dedicated lift taking you up all the way, its quite an experience from beginning to end.
Locating the lift itself was quite a mission, but after careful text and tweet coordination, my group congregated on Chanel and there was the lift. Guarded by a woman who had the air of an angel bereft of her wings, it really was a case of "if your name's not down, you're not coming in". Luckily mine was so up we went. Stepping out of the lift, the ethereal theme continued. Bright white lights, lace patterning, simple but elegant wall decorations. We were greeted by name, the staff seemingly telepathically informed that we would be arriving and were shown to our seats.
The restaurant itself is housed in what can only be described as a "fancy marquee". We were slap bang in the middle of the room, perfectly seated to take in the hustle and bustle of all that was going on around us. I really thought the setting was elegant and not overly fussy with nice touches (such as the antlers for chandeliers and bowler hat light fixings). It was hard to imagine that this was not a permanent structure although the vibrating floors were a constant reminder that this was not the case.
Cocktails and wine ordered, we were sent an amuse bouche, a few slivers of pigs head meat, adorned with truffles, sitting atop a mound of celeriac remoulade. Very simple but highly enjoyable. I really don't understand the addition of truffles sometimes and the few slivers here didn't really add too much. The salty pigs head had a light herb dressing and was perfectly complemented by the creamy remoulade.
Each day, one of Koffmanns old proteges are invited to cook alongside him. The list is quite phenomenal, including the likes of Guy Chavot (The Capital), Tom Aikens, Tom Kitchin, Helena Puolakka (Skylon) and on this occasion, Bruno Loubet. I hadn't heard of him before but with a little research, I discovered that he is an extremely highly regarded chef back in Australia where his restaurant Baguette holds a coveted Michelin star in Brisbane. Fine dining all the way from Oz. The menu is varied and every dish reads so well that the words are enough to start making you salivate. Amongst the standard dishes, the guest chef adds his own and it was with one of these dishes that I decided to start the meal.
Langoustine Bisque with a herb creme chantilly - Simple and elegant, the smell was intoxicating. Dining with keen photographers, it took every ounce of my patience not to dive straight in. A simple quinelle of the herb chantilly was slowly melting its way through the bisque. Once I was finally allowed a sip, the deep concentrated seafood flavours danced over every millimetre of my mouth. Not as sweet as lobster but every ounce as satisfying, the bisque really benefited from the herb cream, mellowing out the extremely savoury flavour. The herbs were an excellent addition, adding another dimension to the overall taste. Coriander microshoots? Not sure, but it helped bring a bit of pepperiness to the overall dish. An amazing start to the meal.
Challans Duck and Salsify - I'm a sucker for duck, I simply love it. After the noble pig, the duck is next in line. Here, we were given a few slices of tender perfectly cooked breast in a light jus, with a confit of the leg for company. Alongside, a baton of salsify and some mixed vegetables. The slices of breast were so tender and pink, and the leg meat just fell apart with tasty morsels of duck skin. No fireworks here but why mess with great tasting products, this duck had not died in vain. Tasty but extremely straight forward.
Pistachio souffle with pistachio ice cream - I think my favourite thing in the entire world has to be pistachio ice-cream. I love it. Ask my friends, and that is all I ever go on about and it just isn't that easily found in the UK. So the minute I saw this at the top of the menu, I closed it. My mind was made up. When it arrived, it had majestically risen, a sizable collar having formed above the ramekin. I wanted to stop the waiter from plunging the ice cream deep into the heart of the souffle, but I thought I better stick to convention and let him do it, after all, it looked like he was enjoying himself. The whole thing was so light, it was like eating beautiful pistachio flavoured clouds. I handed spoonfuls of this round to my dining partners and two of them choked on it, not expecting its consistency being closer to mist than that of mousse. Personally, I think it was just an excuse to have another taste.
My meal was fantastic, start to end. I know that some people had not enjoyed the food as much as I did, but I think that is down to the choices and personal tastes. For example, I tried the famous pigs trotter and was totally non-plussed whereas I know some people were bowled over by it. Other standouts for me were the Royale de Lievre (hare) and the pressed leek with langoustine.
One of the hot topics of conversation regarding this pop up was whether it warranted the price tag? After all, £75 for 3 courses is a lot of anybodies money. I think what you have to appreciate here is that you are not just paying for the food but for the occasion. Yes it has its failings. The service was patchy although always friendly and eager to please and the food was delightful but hardly warranted such a steep price tag. But here you're paying for the chance to sample Pierre Koffmanns cooking again, for the chance to experience the food of a "guest" chef and for an amazing view over London from the roof of one of the worlds oldest and most recognised department stores. The dining room was truly buzzing, packed with minor celebs of the food world and bloggers galore. What you are paying for here is the package, the food is just one component.
During the meal, Pierre's partner Claire was doing an excellent job at front of house, chatting to everyone and making sure they were happy. She remarked how Pierre was so surprised to see such a young crowd, and how he had fully expected the room to be full of his old customers. Although there was a good mix of younger and older in the room, Pierre Koffmanns reputation precedes him, hence the draw of the younger generation of food lovers, myself included.
I scarcely remember enjoying myself so much in any restaurant. If it were to remain open, I would certainly like to go back, just not at those prices. But I am proud to say I was part of this event and had a cracking good time to boot.
Pierre Koffmann, Restaurant on the roof (website) - Selfridges, 400 Oxford Street, W1A 1AB