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RIP Le Gavroche. By James Pembroke

Blog | By James Pembroke | Oct 31, 2023

Le Gavroche, which opened in 1967, will close its doors this autumn. And there’s no chance of getting a table before it goes.

So ends an era of excessive gratification – my favourite kind. No one will ever replicate its womb-like indulgence and seemingly effortless service. It was the ultimate Big Treat.

That said, there will be gaggles of geese across the Dordogne honking at the news their livers have had a reprieve.

Given that one famous restaurateur told me recently that restaurants have the life expectancy of dogs, 56 years is a miraculous tenure. Rules will live on for ever in Maiden Lane, but it’s more of a theme park than a dining room. So, what joy to hear the name Manzi’s again.

The original, which opened in 1928 along with the Ivy and Quaglino’s, was based behind Leicester Square. It closed in 2006 but, in April 2019, Corbin & King got planning permission to convert two glass-walled floors in 1-8 Bateman Buildings (the alley between Greek Street and Frith Street) into a 240-cover fish restaurant, which they felt compelled to call Manzi’s.

Sadly, Jeremy King won’t be there to greet you, after parting company with the Wolseley Group, but it has his stamp running through it: fin-de-siècle, blue and white décor with huge mermen and mermaids leaping off the walls, great cocktails and a two-course menu of clam chowder and grilled mackerel for £28.

We shared an enormous portion of monkfish Wellington, and a bottle of Macabeo for £29.75.

I hope it can deliver on Jeremy King’s typically bold intentions because east Soho could do with a vast, raucous venue. If it doesn’t, he’s just taken the lease on the Caprice site, complete with Jesus, the former maître d’, and he’s opening The Park on the Bayswater Road in the spring.

Giles Coren raved about Mountain, the new kid on Beak Street. So, after finding no room at the inn on its website, I asked my son, Leo, a chef de partie at nearby Polpo, to pop in and get me a table. Thus, I used up my one Filial Favour in 2023. In 2022, I think he carried my suitcase upstairs.

The atmosphere at Mountain would raise Signor Manzi from the dead. The staff gallivant with you to your table and won’t stop enthusing about every dish coming from the kitchen, which is so open, you’ll feel guilty about not donning an apron.

I’m all for sharing plates when they’re small and multitudinous, and redolent of tapas, a Greek mezze or the antipasti of southern Italy but, at Mountain, the portion-control calculus has slipped its moorings. The waitress insisted we could easily share fresh cheese with prawn, spider crab omelette and a plate of girolles with egg yolk, while still leaving room for our main course of seven lamb cutlets, four langoustines, huge bowls of both lettuce and anchovies, and late-summer vegetables.

Oh, and a copper bowl of wood-fired rice, the size of a paella for two. Anyone for pudding? Fat chance.

This is a restaurant for gangs of six, happy to share plates with gallons of the very adequate house wine. The food is not out of this world – bring salt – but I will be returning with some rowdies.

Best lunch of the summer? Shell Bay, overlooking Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour, on my daughter’s birthday – even during a downpour which would have overwhelmed the mermen and mermaids of Manzi’s.