Thursday, 22 May 2008

A Foodie in St Barth - Le Gaïac

Le Gaïac promised to be a real treat - proper French gourmet dining at the restaurant of the four-star Relais & Chateaux hotel, Le Toiny. Following an afternoon spent drooling over the menu listed in the pages of the Saint-Barth Tables, we jumped in the car and headed towards the east of the island. Expectations were high, palates tuned, and appetites at the ready. Without giving the game away from the start, we were not to be disappointed.

The restaurant made a great impression from the outset. The classic décor and concealed lighting were just right and the welcome was polite yet warm as we were guided to our table, which was bedecked with a crisply starched white linen tablecloth and napkins, always a good sign.

We were also facing the open window and had the full benefit of the cool sea breeze.

Prices at Le Gaïac are in keeping with the menu; so don’t leave home without your credit card. Even though there is a €75 set menu – forget that and go for the full à la carte blow out. It’s well worth treating yourself and if you follow the maitre d’hôte’s advice – as we did – you won’t regret it.

Here it’s worth mentioning a word or two on the level of the service before going into raptures over the quality of the food.

Quite simply it was, what the French would probably call “impeccable”. The restaurant was only one third full and it was very late in the season, but this had no impact whatsoever on the professionalism of the relatively young team on duty. There was certainly no evidence of end-of season “service fatigue” we had encountered elsewhere in St Barth.

They remained unobtrusively in the background, but were always attentive just at the right moment. When a diner returned at a neighbouring table after having presumably been to “powder her nose”, there was a waiter on hand to push her chair gently back into place.

At the beginning of every course there was a brief but complete explanation of what we had ordered and an enquiry afterwards as to whether the food had lived up to our expectations.

Most extraordinary and simultaneously refreshing perhaps, was the procedure involved in the ordering and especially the opening of the wine.

There was none of that frantic sloshing it into our glasses and grinning inanely while we were expected to nod with approval. Instead it was the waiter who made sure that our choice was served at the correct temperature and not corked - by sampling it himself before allowing us to taste it. A simple gesture, which makes complete sense really - especially when drinking a wine priced at more than €60.

All the time, the service was carried out under the reassuringly watchful eye of the maitre d – just to ensure everything went smoothly.

Now to the food – and here is where it really is hard to find fault.

Even before getting around to ordering our meal we were presented with some delightful, home made amuses gueules and shortly afterwards a mise en bouche of tuna tartar with pumpkin purée. Both bode well for what was to come, but while taking the edge off our appetites didn’t really make the choice any easier.

A quick glance at the menu – after an afternoon spent pouring over it - sent the taste buds tripping into their own little fantasy world once again with the names of the dishes rolling off the tongue and leaving us wanting to try just about everything.

There was aubergine mille-feuille with grilled and marinated vegetables, black truffles and a Parmesan wafer. Or perhaps a fillet of red mullet in a Provencale tomato sauce, steamed vegetables and pineapple pearls. Then there was the lobster bisque lightly flavoured with aniseed-aged rum or golden fried fillets of sole with a citrus sauce and green salad. And those were just the appetizers.

In the end we plumped for crayfish and foie gras ravioli served in a chicken consommé seasoned with truffle oil, and home made foie gras served with fig wine aspic and a citrus walnut vinaigrette.

Needless to say the foie gras – totally politically incorrect but joyously delicious – melted in the mouth, and there was an accompanying peppered wafer than allowed me to decide just how seasoned I wanted it to be.

Even thinking about the food now, it’s hard not to smack my lips once again in appreciation.

A pause followed in the proceedings, filled with an individually tailored sorbet to cleanse the palate – chosen for us to ease the transition from entrée to main course.

And what a powerhouse, humdinger of a main course. For a full listing of what’s on offer at La Gaïac grab yourself a copy of the 2008 edition of Sainth-Barth Tables and flip to pages 12 to let your eyes do the walking.

Just for the record, we plumped for a skilleted beef fillet (best quality US import) once again mouth meltingly prepared, glazed in tamarind sauce and served with a vegetable tempura and sautéed potatoes. And the most amazing lacquered lime fillet of grouper with bananas and served with ginger sautéed potatoes.

I thought I had been so clever in ordering fish for my main course with the intention of leaving some space for a dessert, but sadly – or perhaps happily – I was perfectly full and happily passed on the crèpe suzette for another time.

After all this was just the first visit to Le Gaïac, and without doubt will not be the last.

Ratings: Ambience – 15.5/20, Service – 15.5/20, Food -16.5/20

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