Champignon Sauvage Michelin Starred Fine-Dining Restaurant
Le Champignon Sauvage in One Paragraph:
A restaurant for Cheltenham to be proud of. Fine dining with exceptionally good value lunch prices and an uncynically priced wine list. Really special.
The Longer Read:
What you can expect at Le Champignon Sauvage is technically superb cooking. The restaurant held two Michelin stars between 2000 and 2018, losing one star in October 2018. To put that into context, there are circa 130 one Michelin star (‘very good cooking in its category’) restaurants in England and maybe only 20 two star venues (‘excellent cooking worth a detour’).
The achievement of David (Chef) and Helen (Front of House) Everitt-Matthias is massive and sustained. One of the strangest bits of recent foodie television was when the Hairy Bikers called in to film at Champignon Sauvage. It was a genuinely weird thing to watch, like watching two painter-decorators pass judgement on the Sistine Chapel. In fact, Everitt-Matthias is rarely on television – he’s a sort of John Entwistle type, highly technically proficient, but preferring to get on with the job in hand.
Michelin stars are a pain in the arse when they’re chased, but you sense that here they are a reward for simply being a very good restaurant, whch is exactly how it should be.
The Champignon Sauvage Experience
On arrival at Champignon Sauvage, we were offered a drink in the rather ‘intimate’ lounge. This time, we went straight through to the restaurant, a light, bright and smart room in which we are the first to arrive. There’s no muzak or waffle about the weather from the black or grey clad front of house team , this place is about the food, that’s it. It’s best to go with somebody you actually like, because you are the atmosphere here.
Crunchy things arrive- a blue cheese and walnut cookie, then a squid ink sponge with taramasalata (with possibly vinegar powder?). The cookie was a savoury powerhouse in two bites, the latter more subtle. I thought that I didn’t like taramasalata, but it turns out that I do. This was miles away from the pink sludge served at a neighbour’s Boxing Day party.
Set lunch is £34 for three courses, making it cheaper (just) than Lumiere, but also less than lunch in chains such as The Ivy, Carluccio’s or Café Rouge. In other words, it’s astonishing value. You might expect that the wine mark ups would be massive to compensate, but the list seems to be comprised almost entirely of bargains. There’s a French focus, with Burgundy particularly well represented. We had a Menetou-Salon (Loire, near Sancerre) from Chavet et Fils. Light and delicious, and a steal at £30.
Amuse Bouche and Starters
We’re served a delicious amuse bouche of celery blancmange, raisin purée and almond foam along with a selection of bread. The shallot and bacon brioche is a particular favourite, but we try the Guinness soda bread and a granary roll too. Putting out five breads every lunch and dinner service is a lot of work for a small team, but that’s how they, er, roll here.
A starter, raviolo of braised beef nods to the kitchen’s use of foraged ingredients, with its mushroom and wild garlic. Foraging is something that Le Champignon has been doing for a long time, before it was fashionable. It’s a lovely combination this, the garlic hit of the pesto restrained by the earthy mushrooms and tender beef.
The other starter of Cured and Seared Mackerel and Beetroot Carpaccio is fresh and full-flavoured. It’s a typical example of this kitchen’s ability to add value to humble ingredients.
Main courses at Le Champignon Sauvage
The main of Cotswold Woodpigeon, Maple Caramelised Chicory, Date and Caper Purée almost over-delivers on flavour. Everitt-Matthias has long been recognised for making things taste more intensely of what they are, than might be thought possible. This is evidenced here. The pigeon is emphatically meaty and juicy, with texture from a topping of crunchy oats. A thick and sticky jus is savoury and sweet with the addition of maple. This is harmonious, powerful cooking – nourishing and thoughtful.
Another main, of pork tenderloin is served pink in a coating of Lapsang Souchong. The pine-smoked tea lends an elegant, almost barbecued flavour to the pork and the accompanying sauce has sheen, both on the plate and the palate. Glazed shallots and apple add, respectively a savoury hit and some sharpness. By the way, when we initially sat down I was pleased to see that there were both salt and pepper on the table – indicating a lack of arrogance on the part of Chef, I thought. I did reach for the salt with this dish, only to discover that there was no salt in the salt pot. This is a rather beautifully Zen solution to the issue, I think.
Cheese and Puddings
Cheese is predictably excellent, with a diverse selection of English and French cheeses served with more delicious bread, and caraway crackers. A Michelin-star restaurant serving cheese without a supplementary charge is a rarity indeed.
Bergamot and white chocolate are paired in a pudding rated second only to a pudding enjoyed here previously. The sour bitterness of the sorbet is counterpoint to the white chocolate mousse, without ever fighting it.
Oddly coffee was merely ‘quite good’ but that was redeemed by a delicious range of petits fours. This was a bargain within a bargain – £7 for two coffees and petits fours.
All Good at Champignon Sauvage?
The value is simply extraordinary. Le Champignon Sauvage remains a restaurant that Cheltenham should be very proud of.
On this and previous visits we’ve experienced great cooking, very fairly-priced drinks and attentive service. The service is necessarily relatively formal, it’s fine dining – but not oppressive. Having said that, in our view, the only slight question mark is over the atmosphere at Champignon Sauvage. There’s that British thing of whispering because you’re somewhere ‘posh’. To be fair, virtually any restaurateur is much happier if his or her establishment is full of happy, noisy diners: If there’s a problem it may well be the attitude that punters bring to the venue – the atmosphere on any particular evening is only as lively as the customers make it.