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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 11th July 2003

Club Gascon

ES Magazine - 11th July 2003

As someone suffering from raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and clinical obesity, I should never have gone to Club Gascon. It's the culinary equivalent of a crack den. Situated next to St Bartholomew's Priory Church in Smithfield Square, Club Gascon specialises in the cuisine of South West France, particularly fois gras. The menu is divided into six sections and one of them is given over entirely to this poisonous ambrosia. Even the chips are fried in goose fat. If you're unlucky enough to be on first name terms with a cardiologist, I'd think twice before telling him or her that you've been here. In fact, don't even tell your GP. You can feel the arterial plaque forming as your walk through the door. It's an Epicurean shrine to heart attack food.

I wasn't surprised to discover that Club Gascon was awarded a Michelin star in 2002. My theory about these baubles is that the more likely the food is to make you resemble the Michelin Man, the more probable it is that you'll receive one. My fellow diners--and this was on a Wednesday lunchtime--were the fattest people I've seen outside the Mandalay Bay all-you-can-eat buffet in Las Vegas. We're talking HUGE. In fact, if one of these Mr Creosotes happened to expire on the premises, I wouldn't be surprised to find their liver on the menu the following day. But I doubt it would be served up with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. That's far too healthy. More like some morels fried in butter and a pint of double-cream.

There's actually something rather admirable about a restaurant that thumbs its nose so blatantly at the health profession. I didn't set eyes on Pascal Aussignac, the head chef, but I imagined a hot-blooded, Gerard Depardieu look-a-like who would come leaping out of the kitchen brandishing a Sabatier if he so much as sniffed a vegetarian on the premises. Sitting among the City fat cats and overfed foodies who comprise Club Gascon's patrons, I was reminded of a film called La Grande Bouffe in which four middle-aged men decide to lock themselves in a country house for the weekend and gorge themselves to death.

The sense that you might actually die while confined in Club Gascon is heightened by the fact that you're unlikely to get away with less than four courses. I wasn't brave enough to try the tasting menu--my wife is expecting a baby and I thought that would be tempting fate--but the waiter described the dishes as "tapas-style" and insisted I order accordingly. Admittedly, the portions were quite small, but what they lacked in size they made up for in calories. I'm currently on a diet whereby I'm supposed to eat no more than 1,500 calories and 40 grams of fat a day and I'm fairly sure that I blew my whole week's allowance at a single sitting. (Note to ladies who lunch: do not bring your personal trainers to Club Gascon.)

I started with--what else?--fois gras, followed by a lobster and asparagus "cappuccino", veal sweetbreads and some sort of chocolaty thing covered with herbs and spices. I think the last course was a desert, though I'm not certain. One of the puddings contained fois gras--or was that a starter? Since all the dishes are the same size, the menu isn't divided into starters, mains and deserts, and further doubt is cast on the matter by the refusal of the chef to cook your food in the sequence in which you ordered it. It's all very French. As if to confirm this, the manager proudly pointed out that the sweetbreads I'd just eaten had been bought in a market outside Paris rather than Smithfields which was literally a stone's throw away.

So just how good is the food at Club Gascon? Pretty exquisite, I'm afraid. I was hoping I'd find it rather disgusting, but it was so good I'll probably go back for more. I just pray my cardiologist doesn't read ES.

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