He’s got the critical plaudits, he’s got the Michelin stars, he’s got the unbending professional admiration of his peers.
And he’s got me eating out of the palm of his sizeable hand. I am an unashamed Everitt-Matthiasite.
None of which means that things cannot go catastrophically wrong, particularly when other people are involved.
You know what it’s like when you love something – someone, a place, a shaggy dog? And you tell a friend all about her/it and they tell you, straight out: “I’m sorry, old son, but she/it is the pits.”
It’s the end of the world, isn’t it? The friendship’s over and your love for the object of your devotion is tainted, maybe only mildly, but tainted nonetheless.
When Marina O’Loughlin, the 6ft 3in tall shaven-haired restaurant critic for The Guardian, shamelessly plied me with alcohol and got me to spills the beans about favourite restaurants, I mentioned Everitt-Matthias’s Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham because I assumed she’d been there. She hadn’t. Marina said she’d give it a go.
Brilliant, I thought. And then I thought: what if she hates it? What if she slates Le Champ and gives it le kicking?
And then I thought: well, if Marina doesn’t like it, I’ll just tweet her and tell her never to contact me again. “You’re dead to me.” I composed the message and left it in “drafts.”
Is it wrong to ditch a mate because of a culinary falling out? Absolutely not. Because friendship is one thing, but love, including love of a chef’s cooking, is altogether different.
Fortunately, The Guardian’s notoriously anti “fine dining” critic liked Le Champignon Sauvage, no doubt because of the restaurant’s lack of pretension and the cooking’s achingly high standards. Marina awarded a 10/10, a rating previously only dispensed for time spent in my company.
So having bored my family senseless with tales of Everitt-Matthias’s cooking, it seemed only right to take them along for lunch. The food, of course, was bloody brilliant. But how do you convey the essence of that in an innovative yet logical way? Easy: you do this.
Last year, Everitt-Matthias and his wife Helen celebrated the 25th anniversary of their restaurant. Le Champignon Sauvage opened in 1987 and although it has expanded in size and undergone an internal refurbishment, the philosophy remains unchanged.
Everitt-Matthias’s cooking is unfaddish; he is immune to fashions and trends. In fact, he sets fashions and trends, of which foraging and the sourcing of cheaper cuts from quality produce are just two. He’s been up to this sort of stuff for donkey’s years.
Now, 1987 is the number, or more accurately the year, to hold on to here. Because what I have done is prepped a “pop pairing” feature. It’s a totally new concept. It’s like a wine pairing dinner, only it’s a restaurant feature and the courses are paired with hit records rather than Austrian grüner veltliner. The songs, rather than me, sum up the dishes. That way, you don’t get me saying: “It was lovely. It was lovely. It was lovely…”
And the songs, pop-pickers, are all from 1987 – for the reasons explained above. Clear? Poptastic.
We had the über-value lunch menu – £26 for two courses, £32 for three. For the price of a ticket for a big game at Birmingham City FC, you get cooking of the standard of two of your English Michelin stars (which everyone knows is the equivalent of three French Michelin stars). Admittedly, you don’t get a Pukka pie and a mug of Bovril at Le Champignon Sauvage, but you can’t have it all.
So here it is: music pairings from 1987 to complement David Everitt-Matthias’s lunch menu in 2013. What could go wrong?
Grey mullet, tarragon gnocchi, mushroom pureé, purple sprouting broccoli – You Win Again, The Bee Gees. (Faultless harmonies.)
Braised lamb tortellini, salt baked celeriac, onions, celeriac consommé – La Isla Bonita, Madonna. (A beautiful island of pasta.)
Breast of wood pigeon, nasturtium millet, roasted parsley root – When Smokey Sings, ABC. (Soul food, so good it makes you want to dance.)
Crispy pork belly, carrot and star anise pureé, heritage carrots, clam sauce – Down To Earth, Curiosity Killed The Cat. (Because it’s posh but, well, down to earth…)
Sea bream, Jerusalem artichoke cream, smoked almonds, salted grapes – It’s A Sin, Pet Shop Boys. (This is full-on Everitt-Matthias flavours – sinfully powerful.)
Praline cream, hazelnuts, chocolates – I Want Your Sex, George Michael. (What else? Totally seductive. If I could eat Everitt-Matthias’s food while dining with George Michael… Wake me up – before you go, go – I’m dreaming.)
Apple and damson tart, damson sorbet, custard – U Got The Look, Prince. (Just look at it. It’s beautiful. If The Artist Formally Known as… lived in Montpellier, not Minneapolis, he’d lap up this quintessentially English combo.)
Coffee and petit fours – Don’t Dream It’s Over, Crowded House. (But it was over – oh, the heartache, oh the nougat.)
A word about the wine.
Despite the restaurant’s lauded status, the list is hugely accessible. For many people, of course, Le Champignon Sauvage will always be a special occasion place, but how lovely to go to such an establishment and not be overwhelmed by ridiculously priced wine. There are some big boys here, if that’s what you want and can afford, but there are also some very well priced, lovely wines, that won’t leave you bitterly regretful the morning after.
Take our choice: a 2009 Chateau Haut Rian (1er Côtes de Bordeaux, Michel Dietrich) which is listed in the House selection. The wine is simply described as “an excellent, fruity wine,” which is exactly what it is. And it costs £22. I dread to think about the price of a wine of similar quality at another two Michelin star hang-out in the UK, let alone France.
- 24-28 Suffolk Rd, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 2AQ
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