40-42 William IV Street, WC2N 4DD
Tel: 020 7420 2050
Cost per person without wine: £36
IF THOSE strikes across the Channel are thwarting anyone’s plans for an autumnal French sojourn, don’t worry – France has come to London instead. Les Deux Salons is the latest place to be opened by chef Anthony Demetre and manager Will Smith, the duo behind the highly successful Soho restaurant Arbutus and Mayfair’s equally acclaimed Wild Honey – and it’s wildly, epically French, in the style of the grandest of Parisien brasseries.
The floor is a vast, black-and-white patterned mosaic; there’s dark wood everywhere topped with long brass rails – resolutely unpolished for that ancien look, according to Smith, who was on duty when we visited – and huge mirrors with mottled, faded glass. Above, lights glow atmospherically in glass orbs that overhang on brass stems. You half expect Toulouse Lautrec to waddle in accompanied by some high-kicking Pigalles maidens.
Somehow, this isn’t kitsch. Were it in Mayfair, it might be – a nostalgic wink and a knowing nod too far, perhaps. But in the West End, at the heart of a triangle linking Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden, there’s nothing nostalgic or too knowing about it – Les Deux Salons feels joyful and energised, and full of theatreland cheer. Speaking of which, the theatre supper menu of three courses for £15.50 seems superlative value to me, and should help pack out the space, which includes an upstairs mezzanine level.
It’s a timely opening too – its friendly glow is all the more appealing as winter creeps in. Certainly more appealing than it was in a previous life as a Pitcher & Piano. This makes two new major restaurants this year – the other being Dean Street Town House – in former P&Ps, to which the response can only be: more, more!
The menu is extensive, divided brasserie-style into entrees, salads, soups, terrines, grill dishes, mains, plats du jour. Surprisingly, but thankfully, it’s all in English. The food is an elevated version of rustic French, with the odd Anglo element here and there – see the English brawn with pickled beetroot terrine, for instance.
I started with a salt cod brandade served with a sauté of young squid and a parsley cromesqui, half out of curiosity to find out what a cromesqui is. It turned out to be a little croquette full of a lovely, strikingly green parsley sauce – pierce it and the sauce ouzes all over the tiny slithers of soft squid. Meanwhile a ravioli of pink veal – the thin strips of meat replacing the pasta – was folded around a creamy mixture of goats curd and dark cavolo nero cabbage. It was all delicious.
For mains, roast halibut with razor clams was a delight, the plump white halibut offset perfectly by the slidey, buttery loveliness of the little pieces of razor clam that were served in their long shell. A soft, moist-as-you-like pork belly arrived inside a ceramic pot, surrounded by lentils and vegetables which lapped up its deep juices. That pot wasn’t the only bit of kitchenware we saw – side vegetables came in a mini roasting dish, Dauphinois spuds (to die for) in a Borrowers-scale frying pan. It’s all rather jolly.
We shared a floating island dessert – a sweet mound of soft meringue hiding within it shards of sticky pink praline, adrift in a pool of crème anglaise – a heady, luxurious pleasure.
It’s a very good time for French food in London. In Knightsbridge, the earthy delights of sexegarian chef Pierre Koffmann have made his eponymous restaurant the year’s most lauded opening; that prize last year could have gone to Galvin La Chappelle, the Galvin brothers’ slice of Gallic sumptuousness by the City; just down the road from Les Deux Salons, the folk at wine bar- cum-bistro Terroirs take the heartiest French dishes and turn them into scrumptious tapas.
The good thing is, there’s always room for one more, and Les Deux Salons sits comfortably alongside those others.