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L'Art du Fromage

Location: 1a Langton Street, at World's End. Chelsea. London.

A cheese-themed restaurant: how could I not check it out? Under the slightly confused "Cheese Gourmet Restaurant" sign, L'art du fromage looks Chelsea-elegant from without, but is more casual within. Bare wooden walls and tables, and a tasteful stained-glass window to hide the view out the back. On the ground floor, plastic-wrapped cheeses in a large glass case attest to the range of cheese available, and a possible lack of care for cheese temperatures.

The six of us wavered over the menu: beer was one of the cheapest options, but the juice looked excellent. Once we had ordered, we were rewarded with an amuse-bouche: an asparagus foam/soup which would have been easier to eat with cutlery, topped with a robust cube of Blue d'Auvergne and a potent green peppercorn. Half the table went with seasonal asaparagus bundles as a starter, with melted emmental holding them together and a perfectly-poached egg on top. I went for deep-fried cheese, three slices of Munster, wine-like in its richness, lightly breaded, fried, and crowning a tasty salad of greens and scraps of ham and walnuts. The Vichiçoise and smoked salmon-and-goat-cheese roulade looked good too.

It was apparent from the beginning that, despite the pretensions of an amuse-bouche, this was high-quality homey food, nicely done, thoughtfully put together, but not setting out to suprise and thrill. This is a place for comfort, affection, and coziness in one's food. Especially if one likes cheese.

lazyknight and C. shared a Munster fondue, with unlimited refills they did not take advantage of. Several of us went for variations on tartiflette, a dish the size of a slice of lasagne, but made from layers of potatoes, creem, onions, and - where appropriate - ham, and topped with still other ingredients. The vegetarian option, as sampled by haggisthesecond at closest-hand, included sweet potatoes, melted Fourme d'Aubert, and a salady frill of watercress. One of the meat versions was piled high with slow-cooked fork-tender lumps of pork, generous slices of black pudding (Boudin Noir), and bonded with Reblochon. It was too much meat for me; too much, that is, if I stood a hope of having dessert.

I did have dessert. So did everyone else. Admirably, naxos was up for a full cheese course as his conclusion. His plate was laden with a good seven or eight cheeses, and decorated with dabs of jam, nuts, token pieces of fruit, and sided with half a loaf in slices of bread. I settled for something which sounded lighter: goat's cheese ice cream and a spiced, poached pear studded with crushed pistachio. The goat's cheese ice cream was exactly what it says it was: it tasted of a soft, goaty cheese, transmuted into cold creaminess. taldragon got the Floating Island, but it was not wholly satisfying. Hidden layers of flavor missed their chance to shine because she didn't find them until she was nearly done. lazyknight's pizza-like apple tarte flambée with Calvados arrived, spectacularly, on fire.

Service was friendly, although it occasionally required prompting, and staff were diligent in checking up on the suitability for food for members of our party. I'm happy to report that it's a place where a gluten-free vegetarian can have a good meal. Tap water was refilled time and again. (Staff must really get a lot of exercise in this place: it's not that big, but spread over three stories, and the kitchen is in the basement.)

The menu is seasonal, so it should be worth returning regularly to this restaurant. To our pleased surprised, the portions were not generally too large and, after a meal in which every course, for at least some of us, featured cheese, we were not cheesed-out. The main downside was that over the phone, we were told they have seatings, at least on Saturday night, of 6:30 and 9:30. Although the time gaps are generous, we were half-worried that we would be kicked out at 9; we were not, but it was a hazard hanging over our tranquility. Pleasant, friendly, low-key, but diligently-put-together dishes star at a rare cheese-themed restaurant. I'd go back.