Walk out of Piccadilly tube on the Soho side, dodge the tourists taking terrible pictures of pigeon crap, David Beckham on a big screen, Boots and Lillychavs, and move in the direction of the new Whole Foods store on the recently re-paved Sherwood Street. Look to your left. Squeeze past the large, slightly imposing but actually very pleasant bouncer. Head through and round and down a nice enough but oddly quiet corridor and stairs …
… and you will find yourself in the mosaicked foyer of Brasserie Zédel, a new restaurant that may be the most Parisian place in the whole of London. It’s certainly more Parisian than the French side of the Eurostar passport control at St Pancras, and possibly more of a snapshot of Paris than the Gloucester Road Waitrose. Possibly.
The dining room is grand. It is a vast and I think super space filled with pinky-brown marble columns and walls and gold leafed cornices. Red velvet booths and numerous other well-spaced tables are covered in peach coloured tablecloths that look like they’ve been swiped from a restaurant attached to an old hôtel or gare. A legion of waiting staff scuttle around, there’s an oyster bar, a bread station and a large menu printed mostly in French, with a full English version available ‘on request’; as if you should feel apologetic for requiring it. Those menus are full of classic brasserie dishes: carottes râpées, Œufs dur mayonnaise, l’escargots, confit de canard, steak haché, filet de daurade, ile flottante … it really is very continental (save, peut-être, that the waiters show a disappointing lack of contempt). You will find yourself accidentally ordering in your worst French.
Certainly, my father couldn’t resist. Never a man to shirk an opportunity to try his Franglais (he even confuses the canard out of péage attendants, to whom there is of course no need to speak), he eventually caused our waitress to pretend she wasn’t French, just so she could understand his order. I think that’s rather endearing – the fact that the place feels so authentic that it makes you want to immerse yourself in the theme, I mean, not Dad’s language skills.
But the thing that’s really of note about Zédel, is that this large new restaurant created by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, the owners of the Wolseley and the Delaunay (and formerly the Ivy, J Sheekey and so on), this grand, expensively designed room occupying a massive piece of prime real estate, is so, well, cheap.
Few of the starters break £7 and most of them, like the desserts, cost less than £3; a proper fish soup is just £4.25. Mains are largely below £10, occasionally stretching towards £15. The three course prix fixe: grated carrot salad (dressed in a super mustard vinaigrette and unexpectedly very good); steak haché with pepper sauce and fries (all a bit over salted, though still decent and cooked medium rare as requested); and a café gourmand (coffee and a small dessert) is £11.25. £11.25 for a decent meal in a swanky room! That is a bargain.
I went as a guest during the soft opening and thought that, on my fully paid return (albeit, in the end, via the Bank of Dad), my initial views about the food were likely to be unchanged: mostly decent, but authentic to the point of that moment on holiday when you have a cheapish bistro meal and think “that was fine, but why do we heap so much praise on French food?”. Frankly, whilst I knew I would go back, I wasn’t sure whether I would bother writing anything about it.
However, throughout my meal with the famille, the food was very good. Not innovative. Not mind-blowing. Rather, we were simply all served dishes that are considered classic for good reason, and they were all cooked well, particularly when you consider you’re not paying a great deal for them. Standouts were the snails, the choucroute Alsacienne (a pork fest), lamb with ratatouille, the onglet, and all of the desserts, given their price point.
During that first visit the service was understandably a little manic, and I’d heard similar comments from friends who had made early paying trips. But yesterday, in the face of a mildly chaotic and confusing family of six, not to mention some terrible sub-CSE French, the staff were attentive, competent and charming.
This is not a trendy place. It is not somewhere that you must rush to because it’s the hottest pulled pork slider street pizza modern British New Nordic ramen bar in central London. Neither is it somewhere to go for a gastronomic journey, or a “thank God I’m not involved in LIBOR transactions” expense account smash-up. It’s probably not even a birthday meal or date place either (well, I suppose it could be). But it is perfect for pre or post theatre. It is also ideal as a central venue for a low stress, bookable, reasonably priced group or family meal: decent food; inexpensive; not a chain; impressive room. Great.
I think I thought I’d be saying Brasserie Zédel is a step-up from Café Rouge, a notch above Côte. But, after a return visit, that would be doing it a disservice on quality of food alone, not to mention value and venue. There really is nowhere else like it in London. Maybe in Paris. But not in London.
Brasserie Zédel in 3 words
Authentic Parisian brasserie.
£20 a head for food will pretty much cover most scenarios. Could spend a bit more with the top choices. But remember also that sub £12 three course prix fixe.
brasseriezedel.com – 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED – 020 7734 4888