Michel Roux Jr: 'Bagging a table at Le Gavroche really has become something special!'

The Staff Canteen

The reaction to the closure of Le Gavroche has been, ‘absolutely crazy’. Since it was announced, social media has been full of posts sharing their experiences and memories from the iconic restaurant.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Michel Roux Jr now he has had time to reflect and found out why he felt it was the right time to close, the best dish of all time on the Le Gavroche menu and his tips on creating a legacy.

The outpouring of comments, memories and stories which swamped social media after Michel Roux Jr announced the closure of Le Gavroche was phenomenal, and although he admits he has not looked at the social media reactions he says it’s ‘really touching’.

Asked if the reaction was what he expected, he said: “Yes, but also a lot more. It is incredible!

Le Gavroche - Credit Issy Croker

“Firstly, I was expecting lots and lots of people asking for tables, which, is true – in fact if anything it is even more than I was expecting! It’s absolutely crazy, bonkers!

“It’s also really disappointing because it means so many people won’t be able to get their last table there.”

He explained that it wasn’t just the hospitality industry who responded to the news, the other outpouring was from guests.

He said: “Guests who have spent so many magical moments here and Le Gavroche means so much to so many.

“It’s the personal emails which are really touching. And the handwritten letters and cards from members of staff who have worked here over the last 50 years, sharing their personal memories and saying they wouldn’t be where they are now without their experience here. That is very heart warming.”

Many chefs and front of house over the years have come through Le Gavroche, it has become an institution. Originally opened on Chelsea's Lower Sloane Street in 1967 by Roux Jr's father Albert and uncle Michel, Le Gavroche featured in the inaugural Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland in 1974. It moved to its current site on Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, in 1981 and was the first UK restaurant to win three Michelin stars in 1982.  

Albert Roux and Michel Roux Snr

Watching those who have worked there continue their own successful journey, Michel says ‘makes it all worthwhile’.

“That is special,” he said. “And it is not going to stop, The Roux Scholarship is carrying on and I’m going to carry on doing as much work as I can with colleges and charities, and with young chefs trying to get them into the industry and keep them inspired."

With Le Gavroche closing its doors, it begs the question of which restaurant will fill its shoes? Michel laughed and explained, ‘there are many great restaurants out there in the UK now’.

He added: “It is lovely to see. To see all of these young, talented British chefs that are carrying on the great work teaching and taking time to be with their brigades and pass on their knowledge – which is the most important thing any chef can do, pass on their knowledge."

Making the decision to close has been an emotional rollercoaster for Michel and his team and it still is.

Michel said: “Every night at the restaurant, meeting people and some people it’s their first time and they are overjoyed because they have manged to bag a table. Or other people it’s a regular occurrence for their anniversary – it’s really special, very special.

Albert Roux and Michel Roux Jr

“Bagging a table at Le Gavroche really has become something special!”

Michel explained that the decision to close the restaurant coincided with the end of the lease, but this didn’t make it any easier to tell the team.

“My voice did go a little bit,” he said. “It’s not been easy, that is for sure but we are a team and everyone so far has said they want to go to the end and they are not going to leave beforehand which is important, to be part of that final team – the team that closed! It’s special.”

Michel started at Le Gavroche when he was 29 and he is now 63, he says he has grown old there, so what are his highs and lows from his time there?

He said: “I cant say that! “I always look forward, I’m ever the optimist so whenever something goes wrong I reflect but for a very short time and then I press the delete button. Life is too short to dwell on things. Learn from your mistake and move on.

“But the highs, there have been so many and there are many more to come. I can’t say one over another!”

Le Gavroche has been a part of his life for so long and although he is looking forward to having more time with his wife, and he himself, being able to enjoy the wonderful gastronomy that there is in the UK, he will miss certain aspects.

“I think seeing young chefs, young waiters and sommeliers coming in with all their enthusiasm and learning their trade. That is something I’ll miss but I’ll be getting it elsewhere for sure, doing pop ups and I’m still working with the Langham and the restaurants in Scotland – so I’ll be able to help and inspire the next generation in another way.”

He added: “It’s not the end, I’ve got lots of stuff in the pipeline and I have more than enough to keep me very busy.” Le Gavroche is viewed by many as one of the best restaurants not just in the UK but in the world, despite this Michel says there was never a time where he felt it was perfect.

He said: “I’m always self-criticising, I’m always looking at ways I can improve. I’ll look at a dish and think yeah, it’s pretty perfect but is it that perfect? I’m always questioning myself. I suppose like all head chefs, you are never 100 percent pleased, I always think I can do better.”

The final service at Le Gavroche will be in January 2024 and Michel said: “I’m actually dreading it because I don’t know how I’m going to react.

“I can’t wait but I’m also dreading it!”

Being a part of a restaurant which has enjoyed 56 years of success, it seems Michel is the person to ask for advice when it comes to longevity, accolades and achievements in hospitality. He says his top tips include having ‘a thick skin’.

He said: “Perseverance, never give up! And like I said, learn from your mistakes and then press the delete button! “The ones which do survive are the ones that can adapt and can quickly move into a different business model. Sometimes that just comes with experience, you know how and what to do when. I think where some chefs or restaurateurs go wrong is they continue down the same route when it obviously isn’t working.

“It’s very easy to blame outside forces but sometimes you have to look at yourself, look at your own business model and say ‘well hang on, maybe I’m not doing it right.’

“You have to be able to look at yourself and criticise yourself, before criticising others.”

Souffle Suissesse

And although he can’t pinpoint his ultimate high from his time at Le Gavroche he can without hesitation confirm the best dish to have appeared on the two Michelin-starred menu.

He laughed: “Well there is one dish that has been on the menu practically every day since day one and that’s the Souffle Suissesse – so I suppose that would take the title, wouldn’t it?”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 1st September 2023

Michel Roux Jr: 'Bagging a table at Le Gavroche really has become something special!'