Originally from Toulouse and having trained under Guy Savoy, Pascal Aussignac (41) opened Le Club Gascon near Smithfield market in East London in 1998. Strengthened by the success of his restaurant, holder of a Michelin star since 2002, Pascal Aussignac and business partner Vincent Labeyrie, opened a wine bar (Cellar Gascon), a bistro (Comptoir Gascon), a second restaurant (Le Cercle) and a luxury fast-food joint (Croque Gascon).
When did you arrive in London and what were your first culinary impressions of the place?
I arrived from Paris in July 1997 when Vincent and I signed the lease for Club Gascon which we subsequently opened in September 1998. I was immediately and pleasantly surprised by the variety of dishes available here and by the unbelievable cultural variations in London cooking-styles. Three restaurants in particular stuck out for me at that time: Wagamama, the concept Asian noodle bar, the Sugar Club in Notting Hill; which served fusion-style food, and gastronomic restaurant, L’Oranger, very classic in terms of flavours but where service was a lot less obsequious than that normally found in the grand French restaurants.
What type of food do you serve?
Here, we have strived for 10 years to develop a style of cooking that is French and reflects regional quality but in a modern way, adapted to current life and the demands of our local clientele. The idea is to give a twist of glamour to French cooking, by stripping it of its elitist and heavy characteristics. As a result, we were the pioneers of the small portion which brings with it the idea of sharing dishes and represents a departure from the traditional programme of “starter, main dish, dessert”: a unique concept for a restaurant of this standard.
What in your view makes a good chef?
A good chef must draw on his experience to offer a style of cooking which reflects his own identity, by finding a unique style which is recognizable by the public and critics alike. He must also be able to motivate his staff to do its best and to know when to take a back seat. Personally, I just want to be known for my cooking, whether that is fast food or gastronomic.
Where do you usually buy the following goods in London?
• Your cheese? La Fromagerie, Paxton and Whitfield and Neal’s Yard Dairy.
• Your wine? Nicolas because it is easy and offers a good selection.
• Your bread? Comptoir Gascon or Princi, Alan Yau’s bread shop in Soho.
• Your cakes? Ottolenghi as well as Ladurée for macaroons and Poilâne for pastries.
• Your meat? Smithfield Market.
• Your groceries? Whole Foods.
• Your fruits and vegetables? Borough Market.
Which bars and restaurants do you like to go out in?
The bar at Sketch, Blue Bar at the Berkeley Hotel, Loungelover and Shoreditch House.
What are your favourite dishes, French and English, and is there a dish that you particularly hate?
I love French casseroles and British pies, both fish and meat, but I absolutely hate rice pudding.
What is the best piece of cooking advice that you ever received or that you could give?
Alain Ducasse once described cooking as the “savoir-faire and faire-savoir”, which means the ability to transmit your knowledge. The Evening Standard has described our style of cooking as “Sex on a Plate”: even if that doesn’t mean very much, the phrase has become a part of our history and I often use it when creating a new dish in order to describe its perfect preparation and presentation.
Club Gascon : 57 West Smithfield EC1 (Barbican, Farringdon)
Cellar Gascon : 59 West Smithfield EC1 (Barbican, Farringdon)
Comptoir Gascon : 63 Charterhouse Street EC1 (Barbican, Farringdon)
Le Cercle : 1 Wilbraham Place SW1 (Sloane Square)
Croque Gascon : Westfiled Shopping Centre W12 (Shepherds Bush, White City)
Wagamama : 1 Tavistock Street WC2 (Covent Garden). Other branches: Camden, Fleet Street, Kensington, Knightsbridge etc.
L’Oranger : 5 St. James’s Street, SW1 (Green Park)
La Fromagerie : 2-6 Moxon Street W1 (Marylebone)
Paxton and Whitfield : 93 Jermyn Street SW1Y (Green Park, Piccadilly Circus)
Neal’s Yard Dairy : 17 Shorts Gardens WC2 (Covent Garden); 6 Park Street EC1 (borough Market)
Princi : 135 Wardour Street, W1 (Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road)
Ottolenghi : 63 Ledbury Road W11 (Notting Hill Gate); 287 Upper Street N1 (Angel); 1 Holland Street W8 (High Street Kensington); 13 Motcomb Street SW1 (Knightsbridge)
Ladurée : 71 Burlington Arcade W1 (Green Park, Piccadilly Circus); Harrods 87-135 Brompton Road SW1 (Knightsbridge).
Poilâne : 46 Elizabeth Street SW1 (Victoria)
Wholefoods : 63 Kensington High Street W8 (High Street Kensington)
Sketch : 9 Conduit Street W1 (Bond Street)
Blue Bar : The Berkeley, Wilton Place SW1 (Knightsbridge)
Loungelover : 1 Whitby Street E2 (Shoreditch)
Shoreditch House : Ebor Street E1 (Shoreditch)