The signature dishes at Comptoir Gascon read like a game of Duck, Duck, Goose.
The classic duck confit with royale potatoes, foie gras and truffle on brioche, pastrami duck magret, and two different duck burgers – one with an extra slab of foie gras because that’s how we roll at this earthy French bistro opposite Smithfield Market: fatty and feathered.
But once the dishes land on our table it becomes immediately clear that ducks, geese and other culinary delights from the southwest of France are no game to chef Pascal Aussignac, who has, of course, earned almost universal praise and a Michelin star for upmarket stalwart Club Gascon around the corner.
Comptoir was always intended to be the more rustic neighbour to the Club, which, after a recent refurb and menu shake-up, remains as posh as the day it opened.
Comptoir, after all, is French for ‘counter’, and the word ‘foodstore’ emblazoned across the front shades suggest this as a place for quaffing Côtes de Gascogne and cured meats, then rolling back down Charterhouse Street with a few deli items in a paper bag to recreate the experience at home.
There are jars of pickled vegetables and condiments and a selection of Gascony wines lining the exposed brick walls, but make no mistake, Comptoir packs a punch as a dining institution in its own right, and for half the price of its big sister.
For starters, the ‘piggy treats’ are tempting in name and description; morsels of Bayonne ham, confit sausage, saucisson and black pudding, but we decide to progress more slowly out of the blocks and go for the one serve of foie gras terrine; rich and silky on slices of light, buttery brioche.
Feeling quite foie gras-ed already, the classic duck burger patty with a punchy, red pepper Basque sauce is decadent enough without another slab of the stuff, as is proffered in the ‘deluxe’ version. The accompanying fries are thicker than expected and, while pleasantly spiced, verge on soggy.
Two small pieces of barbecued lamb rump arrive smokey, succulent, and balanced out by a sweet, bright green paysanne of peas and shallots.
Because we’re keen to maintain the pretence that we’re summering in a sunny village in Gascony, rather than in amongst the construction fumes of Smithfield, we somehow make room for a light cherry-infused Gâteau Basque and the cheese platter.
The latter is a generous selection of five medium cheeses for £9.50, none of which I can name here because of the third glass of Bergerac, but all are excellent.
We roll out down Charterhouse Street, as predicted, with plans to return after a run around. Perhaps a game of Duck, Duck, Goose.
Comptoir Gascon, 63 Charterhouse Street EC1M 6HJ