Restaurant review: The Brasserie at Sofitel, Gatwick

Smoked eel with red gooseberry gel

Smoked eel with red gooseberry gel - Credit: Archant

The Brasserie at Sofitel serves locally-sourced and beautifully executed dishes in the unlikey surroundings of an international airport

Rock Pool

Rock Pool - Credit: Archant

When I was growing up in a remote part of England, holidays abroad began with a long drive to the airport. This usually had to be undertaken the day before the flight, to give my family of bumpkins time to check in to a local bed and breakfast before the journey proper.

Here in Sussex, most of us are lucky enough to be a short motor or rail journey from a major airport. But I still haven’t abandoned the excitement attendant on travelling by air, wishing always to prolong the experience. So I’ve eaten at Gatwick airport a number of times. While the culinary delights of the North Terminal run a wide gamut ranging from Champagne to sandwiches, I had heard many times of the reliably excellent food at the Sofitel hotel’s Brasserie.

A Tripadvisor reconnaissance yielded universally good reviews and first impressions of the hotel were good. There’s a bright and airy atrium, from which the restaurant leads. Our table by the window looked out over holidaymakers off on their adventures. It wasn’t the most exquisite aspect, but it added to the holiday atmosphere engendered by the festive family nearby, who were enjoying a meal before their holiday.

Head chef David Woods, who has helmed the two AA rosette kitchen for the last 12 years, is a keen fisherman, and his hobby is much in evidence on the menu. The menu changes four times a year – there is an emphasis on seasonality and native food – with a monthly special menu; French, at the time of our visit. According to the chefs, people come from as far as Brighton specifically to enjoy the food, so we didn’t feel too out-of-place as non-fliers.

A delightful amuse bouche of salmon cured with beetroot and port appeared in a puff of smoke, the lid of a cloche whipped off to reveal a delicately flavoured, buttery soft tendril of the fish; a sign of things to come.

The starters themselves included the conceptual Rock Pool; a medley of scallops, clam, crab and lobster atop an astringent ginger and lemongrass jelly that felt as fresh and invigorating as a dip in the Channel. A velvety fish soup with a generous slug of cognac revealed generous nibbles of lobster within its briny depths.

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My lemon sole, from the special menu (£22.95 for two courses, £29.95 for three), was perfect: light, flaky flesh swimming in a sumptuous, buttery sauce. The beautifully presented plate was dotted with little buttons of mashed potato, and green vegetables – courgette, French beans and spring onions – provided al dente texture.

Fish, in a yeast batter, and chips the size of Jenga blocks were accompanied by the most sophisticated pickle I have ever seen: a dinky little quail’s egg with baby onion, carrot and gherkin lined up sweetly as a humorous nod to the dish’s heritage; likewise a swipe of pea puree.

The dessert menu was extensive. We chose a trio of rhubarb with a fizzing shot, flavoured by the fruit and its natural bedfellow ginger. A feather-light mousse and deliciously tangy ice cream were served with macerated rhubarb. Superb petit-fours finished the evening.

I don’t know whether it was the backdrop or the modern British, French-inspired cooking: but I left feeling I was walking on air.

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