Pierre the Bear

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La Tante Claire was a restaurant in London owned and run by Pierre Koffman. It opened in 1977 and closed its doors for the final time in 2004, much to the dismay of its clientele.

“Pierre the Bear” as he is known amongst his contemporaries was born in Gascony France. His cooking is inspired by Gascony and the dishes that he watched his grandmother prepare. During his career he has gained three Michelin stars and helped train a generation of British Chefs, including Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey, Tom Aikens, Tom Kitchin and Jason Atherton. His protégées now boast over twenty Michelin stars between them.

Very quickly after retiring Pierre realised that he would rather be back in the kitchen. In 2010 he opened Koffmans at The Berkeley which was home to his long lamented La Tante Claire.

Two chefs who work with me at The Great Food Company have had the pleasure of working in the kitchen of Pierre Koffman and both have said independently that they had never worked in such an organised, calm and quiet environment.

Koffman’s is informal, (smart casual dress code) and split over two levels. The top is light and airy and the basement less so, but this is were you get to see what’s happening in the engine room, a huge window separates it from the 30 or so covers in this dining space.

Clarissa and I were the first in the restaurant shortly after 12 o’clock, and I believe I was a little star struck. We placed our orders and could see the big man himself peering at our check on the pass, smiling and laughing with his staff. Indeed, this was no ordinary kitchen and certainly the calm did not rub off on at least two of his, now successful students!

We had amuse bouche of Pissaladierre.  The onions were so caramelised they were sweeter than sugar, mixed with the subtle saltiness of the anchovies.  Clarissa was delighted.

Clarissa opted for the three course lunch for £39 which included two glasses of wine, coffee and mineral water.

Having never had the chance to dine at Le Tante, I absolutely had to go for the legendary Pieds de Couchon, or Pigs Trotter – Koffman’s classic “always on the menu” dish – apparently once eaten, always remembered and a dish often copied but never equalled.

The atmosphere starts to warm as a party of three, two gents and a lady, occupy the table opposite us. As if in affirmation to the dining room’s relaxed informity they unravel a huge map of Spain, hold it to the wall and start to discuss the latest vacation. The Maitre d’ chuckled and asked if we would like to join them.

Clarissa’s Cod Brandade was a melt in the mouth masterpiece with a deep taste of the sea and a fluffy, creamy finish.

By the time our main course arrived the restaurant had a quiet buzz, with business folk who looked like this was their daily diner and ladies on the upper floor wearing Chanel and drinking Bolly, darling!

Clarissa and myself were suitably flushed on our V&Ts and still in awe at how the more customers arrived, the more in control the kitchen became.

Clarissa said her pork cheeks were “luscious” and I had to agree.  We shared mouthfuls in between complimentary Pomme Frite of the highest order, but my pork trotters with the creamiest mash ever, reduced veal stock and the crispiest see-through crackling was divine.

My good lady finished her meal with Rum Baba which she thoroughly enjoyed.  I was very much like my trotter – stuffed, but I managed another glass of red.

Our bill came to £109.00 Service and food are of excellent value, and if they could supply an old Gascon farmhouse with a roaring fire I would happily pay more.

 

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