Review: Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

In my most exhuberant burst of foody behaviour yet, I’ve moved house and am now only ten minutes’ walk away from my nearest two-star Michelin restaurant! Because it’s important to have a good neighbourhood eatery for those Friday nights when you really can’t be bothered to cook, right?

The restaurant in question is Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, and although I ate here once many years ago I’d completely forgotten what part of town it was in. So stumbling upon it while looking for my nearest 7-11 for milk was a pleasant surprise. It turns out that my nearest 7-11 is further away than my nearest two-star Michelin restaurant. My priorities are clearly A-okay.

Cheltenham, incidentally, has astonishingly good sunsets. We’ve only been here a couple of months and I’d rate it higher for sunsets than anywhere else we’ve lived and most places we’ve visited. Must be something in the atmosphere. Oh yes, Le Champ…

They’ve redecorated to a more contemporary shade of grey since I visited last, though the restaurant is still essentially a pretty ordinary dining room tucked in a parade of local shops and restaurants. Mind you, I love the eclectic mixture of art on display, obviously personal choices and right up my street. Service was professionally friendly, perhaps I’ve bought into modern fadishness but I’d have liked a bit more interaction. The food’s the thing, though.

My scallops with charred leek and cured pork jowl were very good, small scallops with plenty of colour, wafer-thin pork cured to a spot-on porkiness and the leeks proving that it’s okay to burn your food as long as you meant to. It was good. Maureen’s steak tartare with corned beef was also good, with pickled mushrooms and wasabi cream. Across the table a pigeon pastilla was declared delicious too, as was the lobster.

For main I chose venison, in honour of the miserably wet winter evening going on outside. It was a beautiful piece, dearly tender with a gamey liver taste. Accompanied by pickled blueberries and soft sticks of salsify in milk breadcrumb, I enjoyed the whole plateful but it didn’t quite stir a 2-star “wow!” from me. The lamb with sweetbreads and goat curds was spiffy – I loved the way the goaty curds picked up and emphasised the lamby lamb. We all noticed the absence of starch from pretty much everything on the table other than the tablecloth. This isn’t particular to Le Champignon of course, it just seems that potato accompaniments are persona non gratin in fine dining menus these days. But when the food is this rich a bit of carbohydrate would help.

We definitely saved the best until last. My dessert of bergamot-scented mousse was a vivid retro arrangement of orange and dark brown, as bright and brilliant as it looked. Maureen’s salted chicory root with accompanying chocolate sorbet was dreamy, but the star prize goes to the seared mango with Thai-flavoured sorbet; there was buckets of sweet basil and lemongrass going on in there. This was absolutely splendid.

People rave about Le Champignon Sauvage. I feel like a contrarian, because I just thought it was extremely good. It probably boil down to my own preference; when I go for a 2-star Michelin blowout I like to be startled or at the very least challenged and only the puds here knocked my socks off. But hey, Le Champignon Sauvage is very great cooking, and really excellently priced for the sheer quality.

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