Cellar Gascon is a French wine bar and charming offshoot of the Michelin-starred restaurant Club Gascon. Positioned directly on West Smithfield Garden, it is perfectly located for the City of London. Their vibe is honest and uncomplicated, focusing instead on simple, well-presented food and a good selection of French wines. In my experience, the two never fail to complement each other well!
Housed in an understated, early twentieth-century building which hosts both Cellar Gascon and its mother restaurant next door, the unassuming and elegant exterior of the venue echoes the relaxed vibe within. Like everything else with Cellar Gascon, simplicity is key. The space is comfortable and unfussy, providing guests with a laid back setting in which to enjoy anything from a quick business lunch to late-night drinks and food to accompany it.
The interior is decked out in dark wood and bare stonework, with comfortable leather seating and bar stools lining the walls. Whilst it is a small venue, the bar runs the length of the room and the large windows keep the space airy and light. There is a nice spot towards the back of the room where a short staircase leads to a raised, more secluded area, popular with date-goers.
Food and Drink
Food wise, you should go expecting small dishes of well-sourced, simple food, perfect for drinks and nibbles.
The wines that we had paired for us with the cheese were well chosen. The team at Cellar Gascon have a good knowledge of their menu and wine list and are happy to make suggestions and recommendations to their guests. While their cellar contains many fine vintages and expensive bottles, much of the wine menu is reasonably priced and I think you would be hard pushed to find a poor quality wine on their menu. We began with the Chateau-Moulin Caresse Sauvignon (£24). A smooth, dry white whose lees aging gives it a creamy texture and a more subtle finish than you would usually associate with a sauvignon. I would recommend this if you're popping in after work for a quick drink sometime and want a fail-safe option whether or not you're ordering food.
As I say, the key to Cellar Gascon's success is simplicity. The cheese selection (£15.50 or £3.50 each), demonstrates this perfectly. The nutty Comte is a particularly popular choice, and for good reason. I also enjoyed the goat's milk Valencay, dusted in charcoal, and the Ossau Iraty - a ewe's milk cheese from the Western Pyrenees served in thin spirals which really melt on the tongue. We were recommended to finish with the Fourme d'Ambert - an incredibly creamy blue and one of the oldest cheeses in France, so we were told.
We then tried a couple of their 'Sweet' dishes. Once again simple, easy offerings won the day, focusing again on some delicious flavour combinations to satisfy our now cheese-laden palates. They also looked a treat. The sweet, alcoholic juice covering the Spicy Red Fruits, Chantilly & Armagnac (£3.75) was scrumptious. However, top marks go to the Coffee Catalane, Passion & Touron (also £3.75). It was a smooth, nutty dish, with a texture not dissimilar to peanut butter and the touron praline on top was great. What could make these dishes better? A dessert wine of course! If you're going to give dessert wines a go, I would suggest that here's a good place to do it - try the Jurancon Camin Larredya (£56).
At about eight o'clock Cellar Gascon comes alive with a steady flow of local city workers and regulars seeking the oasis of calm provided by the laid-back French atmosphere. The overriding feeling is that now is the time to relax, sit back and savour the good wine and small plates which emerge swiftly from the kitchen upon ordering.
Whilst many may spot this little bar as they wander through Smithfields, and be drawn in by the promise of rustic French charm and the simple elegance of the produce on offer, you could tell that many of those frequenting the venue were regulars who almost definitely had their own spot where they sat on every visit. This again added to the feel of a small-town French café or Bar à Vin, perhaps somewhere near Bordeaux or Toulouse.
Cellar Gascon is built on a simple formula but one that works well: good ingredients expertly-sourced, a well-stocked wine cellar, a central yet not overcrowded location and a reputation pre-made by their mother restaurant next door. I would certainly recommend it for lovers of French wine, cheese and other rustic yet delicious fare and as an excellent location for chilled out after-work drinks or a simple yet sophisticated lunch or dinner.