"It’s at times like these that I recall some of Michael Winner's many words of wisdom: you're not just booking a restaurant, you're booking a table in a restaurant, and some tables are more equal than others"
Brasserie Zédel. What can I say that hasn't already been said by every other blogger/food-writer/critic this side of the Watford Gap? Corbin and King - yadda, yadda, yadda. Great value food in fancy surroundings - blah, blah, blah. More French than a garlic seller's sweaty beret - tell me something I didn't know.
So why should I bother writing a review and why should you bother reading it? Well I need to write something as I haven't done so in a while (a week of powder-heavy skiing in Val D'Isere got in the way), and you should read it because you know how entertaining my writing is, whatever the subject happens to be. So let’s get on with it.
Zédel is a cavernous, underground 200 cover Parisian-style brasserie, just an escargot's throw from Piccadilly Circus. Owned by London's number one restaurateurs, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King - The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Colbert - little expense has been spared in the decor, which is a hymn to the traditional, art-décor, fin de siecle Parisian restaurants of my youth. If it were any more stereo-typically French you'd expect to see Toulouse-Lautrec stumble by in an absinthe induced haze.
The other important point to note about Zédel is that it has been serially characterised as 'good value'. Despite the grand surroundings, the starters average a fiver and the mains are between ten and fifteen quid. Sheer cheapness doesn't necessarily constitute good value though, so you'll have to wait and see whether I endorse this.
Although they claim that up to 40% of tables are kept back for walk-ins, I had booked almost a month in advance to secure an 8pm sitting for four on a Friday night. So it was after a couple of pints of very good beer from the Leeds Brewery in the Crown and Two Chairmen on Dean Street that I skipped happily through the streets of Soho in the company of VD, Turkey and Tozza in expectation of an enjoyable evening.
Now here's a question for you: do I look like an out of town, unsophisticated, provincial shit-muncher? Because that was the decision that the Maitre d' obviously made when he assigned probably the worst table in the house to spend our evening at - the one right by the entrance, where even the waiters look pityingly at you.
If it was just me, I might have understood, but my friend Turkey was nicknamed "College Fitness" at university on the strength of his dreamy good looks and their startling effect on the opposite sex. A man like this deserves a pedestal!
Inevitably, when we requested a change to a less draughty position, the toe-rag said (via an intermediary, he was too chicken to come over himself) that there weren't any other tables available. Two minutes later though, another request was issued and, thankfully, this time was acted upon - crisis averted!
It’s at times like these that I recall some of Michael Winner's many words of wisdom: “you're not just booking a restaurant, you're booking a table in a restaurant, and some tables are more equal than others”. So if you don't like your table by the toilet, ask to change straight away. If you don't, it'll be too late and you'll spend the whole evening in a grump, while being chastised by your date for being an ineffectual old tosser: the type of man who allows himself to be bested by a smarmy Frenchman in a polyester suit and is probably impotent to boot.
Once all that faff had died down, I could turn my attention to the grub on offer, and my word, for those of us used to typical London prices, it is indeed cheap. You'd have got five pence back from your fiver for my starter of endive, walnut and Roquefort salad- although three small pieces of roquefort still wasn't a great return for £4.95 and I'd rather have paid another quid and have a decent slab of cheese to go round (endive isn’t made to fly solo).
A superior option appeared across the table in the form of the fish soup, which, with its little bowl of accompanying rouille, was even better value for that extra pound more.
Main courses are an anthology of the bistro classics: onglet; cous cous garnie; andouilette; choucroute alsacienne; confit de canard etc etc. My cous cous with lamb, lamb’s liver and merguez was pretty good and the merguez was nicely spiced. However, both the lamb and lamb’s liver were overcooked, and at £13.50 they have crept into a price bracket where the customer has the right to expect a bit more precision in the kitchen rather than be fed something edible in glam surroundings.
Again, the best option appeared across the table, in the form of the onglet steak. This was a big ole hunk of bloody beef that arrived with a rich shallot and red wine sauce, all for less than a tenner. For an extra eight pounds, one of our party traded up to a piece of sirloin, but that isn’t really in the spirit of things and I’d advise you to save the cash to spend on dessert.
Ever since I was a small boy I’ve had a long running affair with ice-cream, which unlike the opposite sex doesn’t slap me and always tastes good. Therefore I manfully made room for a Coupe Mont Blanc, which was great - no more so than most other versions I’ve dealt with previously, but that’s no criticism. Elsewhere, both a crème brulée and an ile flottante were well made and everything you would have expected and wanted them to be.
Several carafes of wine later our bill topped out at around £35 a head, which, for three courses of tasty food and wine in Central London, is a relative bargain by most people’s estimation. I’ve spent more than this in a whole host of crappy, mediocre, chain restaurants, which Brasserie Zédel most certainly is not.
After table-gate had been resolved the service was slick, quick and friendly, and provided they don’t start to hike up the prices, I will add my name to the chorus of food writers to have labelled Zédel ‘good-value’. From a mean-spirited Yorkshireman there’s probably no higher form of praise.
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, London, W1F 7ED
020 7734 4888
Open Monday to Sunday 11.30am - midnight