There are a lot of big places opening in London this autumn: Hawksmoor Seven Dials in Covent Garden (about which I can hardly claim to be impartial since it’s run by my son, Will), Jamie’s new barbecue restaurant Barbacoa at St Paul’s which opens in about a week's time and Anthony Demetre and Will Smith’s new gaff Les Deux Salons which occupies a large site in William IV street just off Trafalgar Square.
Apparently it’s the former site of a Pitcher and Piano but you wouldn’t know. It’s been expensively and beautifully made over to look just like a Parisian brasserie. Although the food is also French-inspired the restaurant doesn’t feel Parisian though I can’t decide whether that’s a good or bad thing. Good certainly in terms of the service which is charming. Less good, possibly, in that the food is slightly posher, more expensive and less gutsy than you’d find in Paris - or indeed in Terroirs over the road.
The saddle of rabbit with pumpkin gnocchi and hazelnuts for instance (right) is far too elegant for brasserie fare - too restrained in flavour for this diner at least who had just been feasting on more rustic rabbit dishes in Burgundy. And my companion looked quite crestfallen at the size of the double veal chop we shared which he could have happily demolished singlehandedly (it was pricey, too, at £23.50 a head). But meltingly rich slow cooked ox cheeks with parsnip pure were exemplary as was a pitch-perfect gratin dauphinoise.
I’d been gagging to try the Herefordshire snail and bacon pie (above) which came in its own chic little cast iron pie dish. I’d have liked more snails and a bit more garlic but I guess most people wouldn’t. (It was delicious with a glass of Anton Bauer Gmrk Gruner Veltliner, by the way)
A sweet onion tart with crumbled goat’s cheese and figs was just beautiful as was an Autumn salad with quince, wet walnuts and dolcelatte.
Puds continued in the same vein with a posh pink version of les flottantes (floating islands) with pink pralines and a stylish riff on rum baba but the highlight for me was a pain perdu with Cox’s apples (right) such a gloriously simple and delicious idea you wonder why no-one has thought of it before.
Wine service is great as in Demetre and Smith’s other places - they were the first to serve the 250ml carafe that has become so popular and which gives you a chance to try more than one wine. (Our other bottle was a delicious and very well-priced 2009 Chusclan ‘Sol et Sens’, a blend of Grenache and Syrah from the Rhone and particularly good with the ox cheek.)
I think it depends what your expectations are of Les Deux Salons. If you like Arbutus and Wild Honey and Demetre’s Michelin style of cooking you’ll love it. If you’re looking for an authentic French brasserie experience you might possibly be disappointed.
I was slightly ambivalent about it but I know many of my colleagues love it and feel I should give it another try. There’s lots to go back for: the dish of the day - lapin la moutarde on Mondays, cassoulet on Thursdays and hachis parmentier (French shepherds pie) on Saturdays (it’s open 7 days). Afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and scones. And a well-priced pre-theatre menu at £15.50. (They don’t mention lunch on the website but their other restaurants have always had good lunch deals.) I would give it a go.
Les Deux Salons is at 40-42 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DD
Tel: 020 7420 2050
I ate at Les Deux Salons as a guest of the restaurant.