Thursday, 3 February 2011

Les Deux Salons

Les Deux Salons Menu
I've always considered the drag between the Strand and the National Portrait Gallery to be a particularly faceless part of London, dominated as it is by a large, unlovely post office.  It was a surprise when Terroirs restaurant trailblazed with its opening on William IV Street a couple of years ago, but successfully so.  Now we have Anthony Demetre and Will Smith choosing it as the location for their third restaurant venture.  Then again when you consider its proximity to the West End Theatres, Galleries, railway and tube stations, it looks like a pretty smart move. 

Having had huge success with their intimate restaurants Arbutus and Wild Honey, Demetre and Smith have now upped the volume with a classic grand French brasserie seating many more than their other restaurants combined.  Spread over two floors, the upstairs for private dining, it's spacious and stylish and clearly some serious money has been spent.  Tiled floors, brass rails, globe lighting, comfortable banquettes and some discreet corners, it's a long way from the building's former incarnation as a Pitcher & Piano bar.  The one bum note being the really bad faux-aged mirrors which, frankly, look as though they've come from B&Q. 

Arriving late for a quick lunch without a booking, they just managed to fit us in amongst the media and business lunchers.  There was a lively buzz, though thankfully there are enough soft surfaces to soak up the clatter.  The evening crowd is probably a bit less buttoned-up and I can see this place attracting some of the customers from The Ivy and Sheekey's, maybe even The Wolseley.  The food is less creative than can be expected at Arbutus and Wild Honey.  At Les Deux Salons you'll find French Brasserie classics such as Bouillabaisse, Belly of Pork petit salé and Sliced tête de veau, and a "Josper" charcoal grill offering Bavette of Scottish Beef, Elwy Valley Lamb Barnsley Chop and Andouillette de Troyes.  A sprinkling of English dishes fit in seamlessly - Slow Cooked Ox Cheeks with Parsnip Mash, Cottage Pie, Herefordshire Snail and Bacon Pie.

The offer of a Dish of the Day is very French and very welcome.  Being Thursday it was the day for Cassoulet, a dish I find hard to resist.  The Cassoulet was served correctly in a covetable cast-iron skillet.  Even the French cannot agree on how to make Cassoulet so it's pointless to consider how authentic this version is.  I can tell you the haricot beans were satisfyingly creamy and topped with breadcrumbs, the garlicky Toulouse sausage was very meaty, the pork tender and the skin of the duck leg nicely crisped - all-in-all delicious.  Now, a small gripe about those skillets.  Seeing most of the main courses arrive in identical dishes was puzzling.  The food was good but for me this presentation introduces a note of dishonesty, especially when a waiter warns you the pot is hot and actually it isn't.  Serving a dish of Fillet of Pollack in a skillet seemed, frankly, silly.  If the pot had been hot the fish would be overcooked by the time it arrived at table.  Is it for show, or is the kitchen so far away from the diners that this is the only way they can serve the food warm?  Having got that out of my system, I have to say my Ox Cheek with Parsnip Mash served with glazed carrots was very good - if a little tepid in its skillet!  The side of winter greens was generous and virtuous.

Chocolate Mousse, Crème Brûlée, Rum Baba and Floating Islands are certainly authentic French Brasserie dishes, and all able to be pre-prepared.  We had no time to try any so I can't comment on how well they are done here.  I do recall that the Floating Islands dish served at Wild Honey is far too sweet for my taste.  It's a pity the English influence hasn't extended to the puddings, this is, after all, something we do rather well and I could see Bread & Butter Pudding, Apple Crumble or a Rhubarb Fool fitting in rather well at this time of year.   After all, even the French love an English Crumble.  But maybe hot puddings would be putting too much stress on the kitchen.

Most of the wines are available by the 250ml carafe as well as by the bottle, a good number of them reasonably- and all proportionately- priced.  You'll even find the odd English one.  A carafe of Corbières at £6.50 went down very well - yes, I know I'm a cheap date.  Service was slightly mechanical but swift and efficient, and given how busy they were perhaps to expect any more at these prices would be asking too much.  A daily Set Lunch is offered and Theatre Suppers are served 5-6.30pm  - 3 courses for £15.50 make both options excellent value.  The style of Les Deux Salons bucks the trend for the small plates/sharing plates which we've seen with recent London openings such as Polpo, Polpetto, Morito and Brawn.  Given the size of restaurant, it needs to remain busy to retain its "place-to-be" atmosphere.  Whilst I don't think this will become my favourite dining spot, I would certainly recommend it for a lively lunch or pre-theatre dinner.  With the afternoon tea market also catered for, Demetre and Smith may be paying off that debt sooner than most restaurateurs could manage. 

Les Deux Salons
40-42 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DD
Tel: 020 7420 2050