This is what happens when you go to Le Gavroche:
You are met by a smart lady who ticks you off the list and takes your coats. She then leads you downstairs to your table, which is delightfully lit with a paraffin lamp in the shape of a candle, and has a sculpture of a rooster on it (French connection?).
If, like me, you need to go to the loo before you start, three waiters will come leaping out of nowhere to pull the table out for you, and if you are female, someone will run ahead of you to open the door to the toilets for you.
The toilets are lovely, with individual handtowels. You return to your table.
A dinner-jacketed chap asks if you would like an aperitif, some champagne perhaps. Stef and I (excuse my change of pronoun - I shall now tell you what happened) declined the pink champagne and 'just' had 'ordinary' champagne. Meanwhile three waiters are scurrying about putting things on the table. There is a silver platter with a couple of - as I believe they are called - amuse bouches, little canape-type things whose ingredients I could not identify. Water has been poured for us. Bread rolls offered and taken.
We read the menu. Stef is in the loo, and I realise that my menu has no prices on it. I have read about this, so am not utterly shocked. I knew this was going to be the tricky bit: I am paying for this, but of course in the traditional etiquette the man pays. Still, I didn't realise they still did the 'menu without any prices' thing. How quaint. And cute. :o)
We order. And I am handed the wine list, or book rather. Eventually I give up and let Stef choose something. Stef complains (to me, quietly) that there is no steak and chips option on the menu; he is only half-joking.
Meanwhile we are served with an hors d'oeuvre, in this case a prawn with some avocado pieces and a subtle sauce thing in a little dish. Yum. It goes well with the champagne, too. Probably not an accident.
Our wine arrives; I taste it and it is poured for us, and left in a silver wine holder, resting at a good angle, one assumes, for the sediment not to get shaken up. All night we do not touch a single bottle. Our wine glasses (huge things, only ever filled a third of the way up) are constantly refilled as soon as there looks like a danger they might be drained. Our water glasses are refilled every two minutes or so. Stef notices that two of the waitresses are twins. I have not noticed this, and do not believe him until both of them appear at once, filling glasses. I notice they have smart ginger haircuts.
Our first course arrives.
I have chosen foie gras, slightly warmed, in a fruit sauce thing, served with something which looks like christmas cake (it definitely has cinnamon in it) but is in fact slightly meaty when you taste in on its own. But just right with the foie gras. Stef has duck with salad. The duck is cooked in a big ball of pastry-type stuff and the salad is a rich-looking combination of things in a lettuce leaf. Of course, several waiters are attending to us; my plate is put on the table first by one waiter, but the silver lid (I can't remember what it's called really, but you know what I mean) is not lifted off my foie gras (except for a second when it arrived, to let me see it) until Stef's uncovered plate hits the table. In other words, we are served at the same time.
Then the main course. I have a beautiful cut of lamb, medium rare. Done with bulgar wheat and olives, and a nice little stack of vegetables including a bit of pepper, some aubergine and courgette. Stef goes for rabbit, which is done with parmesan (and stuff) and comes in a multi-layered stack. Even arch-critic and anosmic* Stef is impressed with the food, as the meat is tender, and he thought that rabbit meat was by definition (rather than design) tough. It appears the secret is in the cooking. The knives and forks are silver, and have a carved figure on the end - a little urchin boy, the eponymous "gavroche".
To finish - after a gap to let the food settle - I have a selection of ice cream and sorbet, including some notable mint ice cream which tastes of fresh mint. My ice cream is served by an extremely handsome black waiter (looking sharp in a white dinner jacket) out of silver cold bowls at my table, a new teaspoon for each flavour, each one rinsed between scoops.
Stef takes the "Omelette Rothschild", a remarkable concoction of apricots and syrup covered with a very light, fluffed sweet souffle. Delicious (I had a bite).
I have an espresso to finish (and a refill). I am just about stuffed full this time but manage to find room for a couple of the petits fours. They come on a two-tiered silver tray and Stef eats most of them. My favourite was a toffee physillis. That is, a physillis with a sugar coating (like a toffee apple, but much lighter), dipped in coconut flakes.
I ask for the bill. The waiter is evidently slightly alarmed that the lady is paying. Not because he thinks I shouldn't, but obviously he is worried in case the restaurant's etiquette offends. It does not.
The waiter (I think he is a maitre d'table in training - I get a brief glimpse of the famous Silvano Giraldin [who's been maitre d' at Le Gavroche for years, apparently], but the younger chap seems to be largely running the show tonight) - so, to recap after that huge parenthesis - the head waiter asks me if tonight is my first time. I say yes, and tell him I will be back.
"Good," he comments.
I pay the bill: £204.90, including service.
Bargain of the year, I think.
Stef and I leave, and I collapse on the friendly slabs of the West End, dying of gastronomic overload and hedonistic meltdown.
I will be back. Oh God, yes.
* anosmic = no sense of smell