I arrived at l'Art du Fromage, thanks to a combination of the dismal weather and the fact that London Transport falls completely to pieces at the drop of a broken umbrella, completely and utterly drenched to the bone. The long walk from Sloane Square in the rain was miserable but at least necessitated a walking pace that got me to the restaurant 30 minutes early, and my first instinct was to find a nearby pub to drip-dry in. In this strange, lonely hinterland between Chelsea and Fulham however, opposite the derelict and appropriately-titled World's End pub, there really is nothing but bookmakers and windswept concrete estates. So instead I squelched into the restaurant alone, leaving a pathetic wet trail between the door and my table at the back of the room. Fair play to the staff who, if they were concerned that this bedraggled figure was lost on the way to the homeless shelter, didn't show it.
L'Art du Fromage is clearly an excellent, and unique (at least in London), concept for a restaurant. For those of us that look forward to the cheese course as the highlight of a meal (and why wouldn't you?), the prospect of an entire evening constructed from such delights as Munster, Comté and Bleu d'Auvergne was pretty exciting. By the time my flatmate had arrived I had already mapped out the three courses I wanted, ordered a bottle of sweet Gewurtstraminer to go with them, and dribbled slightly onto the menu. I was ready.
First to arrive was a little amuse of chicken liver paté and what they called a "cheese marshmallow" but tasted a bit like halloumi - perhaps it was. One of these arrived when I was on my own, then when there were two of us another two arrived... leaving three in total between the two of us. Generous I suppose, but a bit strange.
My starter was three neat medallions of foie gras terrine, interspersed with rods of ginger biscuit, slices of apple and radish, and spicy chutney. Also scattered on the plate were some edible flowers, which is perhaps pushing the pretentious button slightly but they did look pretty. Not the greatest foie I've ever tasted but the textures were superb and it made a perfectly decent starter.
The Main Event was a Fondue "Savoyarde", a mixture of Emmenthal, Comté and Beaufort cheeses presented theatrically with a flaming dose of kirsch liqueur (to "aid digestion" as the waiter rather graphically put it). The bread was nicely toasted, only occasionally falling apart in the mixture, and the flavours of the cheeses really did create an interesting cocktail. There was a slight tendency for the mixture to separate towards the end but if anything this just made it more of a hilarious challenge to keep a nice blob of cheese on the end of your skewer. It seems silly to criticise a fondue for being "just a fondue" and I won't, but even if it was nothing more than a big bowl of melted cheese and white wine, that's still good isn't it?
Desserts were very French, and very good. Crème brûlée, although not up to the mark of the Chez Bruce effort I'd tried a couple of years ago, was rich and creamy and served with not only a nice vanilla ice-cream but some gorgeous homemade lemon curd. And the Ille Flotante was ethereally light, sat on top of a good Crème Anglaise and enhanced by what I think was a swirl of some sort of fruit syrup. No complaints from anyone on our table.
So with all this at least good and occasionally wonderful food, with sparkling service and the benefit of novelty, why only 7/10? A couple of things. Firstly, the room is very, very strange. It's tiny - five tables from memory, all for 2 people, so that makes a maximum occupation at any one time of TEN(!) people. There were three members of waiting staff and presumably at least one more person in the kitchen, so this is a customer-staff ratio that even the top 3* Michelin restaurants would be proud of. But despite this, the huge blank walls and tomblike arrangement create a weirdly soul-less and echoey space and although the staff did their best I never really felt comfortable. Secondly, the prices - and I know this is Chelsea but only just - are perhaps slightly on the high side. Artisan cheese is never cheap, but at £33 for a hardly huge fondue for two and a rather pricey wine list our bill last night, bearing in mind we only had one starter, was £89.
A final warning. The light in the gents works on a motion detector that seems to be trained only on the door and not where, without going into too much detail, you would normally expect to spend most of your time in a public toilet. I was unexpectedly plunged into pitch darkness barely 30 seconds into doing my business, and found that making wild flapping gestures with my free arm didn't manage to activate a motion sensor the other side of a brick wall, but did give me a bruised wrist after making contact with a light fitting. Thank goodness for my iPhone, whose electronic display prevented further trauma and led me safely back into the light. If you can avoid similar injuries, and don't mind paying slightly over the odds for what is still a pretty decent evening, then why not pop into L'Art du Fromage. An evening of cheese-based overindulgence awaits.