An obsession with detail... - Veterinary Practice
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An obsession with detail…

Vetinary Practice introduces a new column covering some of the finer things of life, starting with a visit to a quality restaurant in Cheltenham

ONE of the joys of the English language is the wide variation in the meaning of a single word.

Take “wild”, for instance; its meanings can vary from an expression of anger to a description of frightening weather or a challenging landscape. It can describe animals or people running amok with no consideration for others or be a simple descriptor for untamed animals or uncultivated plants.

We delight in our intuitive knowledge of this arcane language. Its imprecision is what makes it rewarding to us so that we can smile, look faintly enigmatic and nod in a knowing sort of way, fully aware of the torment it must cause anyone wrestling with English for the first time.

The French don’t seem to have this problem. Their vocabulary is far smaller and, somehow, many of their words have several meanings but with fewer nuances. “Le Champignon Sauvage” is clearly not a term for a foolhardy mushroom, hanging on grimly in the teeth of a force nine gale.

It is, instead, the name of one of the finest restaurants in the UK and, while literally translated it means The Wild Mushroom, the name belies the obsession with detail and quality that lies behind the scenes.

Two stars

The accolade of two Michelin stars should give you a clue but beware making comparisons with other excellent, similarly acknowledged restaurants as to do so may mislead you into thinking there was something rarified and sepulchral about this unassuming but quite magnificent establishment.

So often, our anticipation of eating at a much-lauded restaurant creates an impossible hill to climb for the chef and his team and, sadly, so often the accolades that ensue fool the chefs into believing their own PR a little too much.

As a friend of mine believes, the addition of a star often means the equivalent subtraction of ambience. A quick run down the list of Michelin 2 star restaurants, or the equivalent Egon Ronay star rating, can summon up memories of great food endured rather than enjoyed in that strange atmosphere that comes when those responsible are too far up themselves to notice. If success is the measure, many are probably too far up themselves to care!

Le Champignon Sauvage is different. It’s tucked away on the edge of town in an eclectic parade of shops that boasts an antique shop, an Indian restaurant, a new and trendy bar and a run-down local pub. Parking isn’t easy as in Cheltenham no one it seems has off-street parking but that should not deter you as the effort will be repaid handsomely.


The façade once belonged to a pub but once you’ve pushed open the door, you’d never know as the ambience is quiet, relaxed and surprisingly homely without any hint of being kitsch.

It’s not particularly large but it is welcoming and extremely comfortable and the staff all manage, led by Helen, one of the owners, to deliver a very high, but unassuming level of service.

Tables do not appear to be allocated to individual waiters and all the staff have perfected the art of being attentive to detail without being invasive.

The walls are appropriately muted in a mushroom tone and large oil paintings and prints adorn the walls. There is no theme as the owners appear to have simply hung pictures they like and it works well.

The décor, however, is merely the backdrop to dishes that have been thought through with an innovative and obsessive attention to detail.


The combination of duck breast with Moroccan black lime, chicory with maple syrup and walnuts or, alternatively, dived Shetland scallops with Jerusalem artichoke purée, globe artichokes and liquorice root would not readily come to mind for many of us but, in both cases the individual flavours and textures were not only distinctive but they remained balanced and complemented each other perfectly.

A tiny glass of vichysoisse with angelica distracted us perfectly after the starter and a tantalising pre-dessert cleared the way for bitter chocolate and olive tart with fennel ice cream. Simply heaven!

So often the wine list can be a downward spiral of ostentation but here the list starts with good value, well-chosen bottles that are both affordable and utterly reliable.

For £22 you can have an excellent, minerally Quincy that works so well with almost anything you might choose to eat or, for roughly similar money, a round and rewarding Gigondas Domaine Saint Gayan Meffre 2001 that would work well with the duck or the superb Cinderford lamb.

Not expensive…

While the menu was full of surprises, the final bill wasn’t. No one should expect a Michelin two star restaurant to be cheap and it wasn’t. Neither, I must say, was it expensive when you think that three courses and a bottle of something mediocre in an indifferent restaurant chain can set you back around £40 per head.

The final bill for two, including wine, was £130 which we thought was amazing value for dazzling dishes expertly served in a restful but never hushed setting.

Not every week, perhaps, but do take the trouble to seek out Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham. It really is an undiscovered gem and all the more so because it is so much more down to earth than so many of its peer group in terms of recognition. Isn’t it great to find a bargain?

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