Les Deux Salons, Covent Garden Review:
There’s something of a spawning of Brasseries in London at the moment – from the much hyped celebrity hangout Balthazar to the Rex Group’s Brasserie Zedel. It was reassuring then, to sit down next to a charming French lady and her young daughter at Les Deux Salons and discover they were lunching at Les Deux Salons because her ‘fussy daughter like the food because it was French’. For some reason, we like to think things are authentic, even if authenticity isn’t always good. Thankfully in this case it was good AND authentic.
Les Deux Salons, opened in October 2010 isn’t exactly new and is the third venture from Michelin–starred duo Anthony Demetre and Will Smith, the team behind Arbutus and Wild Honey. I used to drink in the building when it was the Pitcher and Piano and it’s unrecognisable from the previous incarnation. There’s a great attention to detail from the lighting and silvered mirrors through to the bronzed sinks in the toilets and the dark green leather banquette seating. And although the menu is mostly in English, some of the dishes really do sound as if they are from the English translation of the French original. An excellent value prix fixe menu of soup du jour, coq au vin and coffee with profiteroles for under £10 is complemented by the option of menu formule for just under £20 including wine.
What to choose to test the kitchen? Well, having overcome my snail phobia at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, I went for snail and bacon pie to start. It arrived in a pretty cast iron dish, with a crisp topping of flaky pastry hiding a creamy snail and bacon laced sauce. A robust and hearty dish which was paired for me with a glass of unoaked Chilian Chardonnay la Playa.
The wine list IS comprehensive and almost the full list is available by the bottle or 250ml carafe. House wine is £16.50 a bottle, but you can buy by 75ml measures – and pay as you go for whatever you drink if you don’t want the entire bottle. We took advantage of the offer to have our wines matched throughout and even Simon from By-Invitation had a few suprises as a result.
His artisanal black pudding with poached egg had caught my eye on the menu. And but for wanting to avoid egg at any cost, it would have been my choice. The black pudding was softer and more delicate than its British counterpart. And the matched wine a Californian Viognier Cline was apparently perfect!
I am genuinely trying to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Whole lemon sole came on the bone with a generous garnish of caper and parsley butter. It was very authentic, even down to being just a little saltier than I’m used to. And very good too. Of course I loved the matched Chablis 1er Cru that was served with it, just that little bit more delicate and fresher than the preceding Chardonnay.
Simon’s steak frites with shallot sauce was pronounced excellent – and certainly the frites were spot on (I might just have stolen a few!) that perfect mix of crispy outside and fluffy centre that is hard to get with thin cut chips. At £15.95 it’s hard to complain.
Dessert for me was tart of the day – rhubarb and custard, which was perhaps the closest to a hybrid dish we were served all day. Pastry and filling just a little more substantial than my own experience of classic French Brasserie food, it was really very delicious. Simon’s crème brulee was the perfect mix of crispy caramel topping and creamy custard. Perhaps it would have benefited from a little more vanilla, but that’s very much a question of personal taste.
We popped down to the kitchen to meet and thank the chef for an excellent lunch. Don’t go expecting fine dining, what you will get is excellent value, simple and traditional dishes. My only issue, that the fish was just a little salty was moderated by the fact that it was perfectly cooked and as a result, easy to fillet. The service for a midweek lunch was efficient and friendly (we compared notes with diners on either side of us) but we obviously have no way of knowing how well they cope with the pre-theatre rush.
I do know from chatting to the chef that the prix fixe menu has helped encourage diners throughout the day and evening – which is understandable – a true brasserie meal for the price of a single course at Cafe Rouge is unlikely to fail. I for one, now have a new place to take friends in London for good, reasonably priced food and drink.
Les Deux Salons
42-44 William IV Street