LES DEUX SALONS: NO OIL PAINTING
We've had a few (scrub that, thousands) of mails asking us why no updates to the blog. I can't speak for HS but in my case it's mainly down to the fact I’ve been on holiday but it’s also because I have a certain ennui with the current dining scene in this city.
While I'd like to believe that the many new Burrito joints (it's a flipping wrap - get over it), Bahn Mi shops (it's a sandwich pal, not Babette’s Feast) and grim chains (oh goody, yet another Eat, you are spoiling us, City of London) are raising the foodie bar in London I tend to see them as no more than exercises in seeing how much dosh can be squeezed from gullible Londoners for the least outlay.
Ditto most restaurants which rather than attempting to provide something so wonderful that you’d never want to go anywhere else again work on the “What can we get away with” principle based on the premise there’s always another mug punter around the corner.
Ok. Now I’ve got that little lot out of my system I can tell you about my visit to Les Deux Salons, a pretty major restaurant opening and as good a way as any to get the blog rolling again (albeit creakily).
First a confession: I've never had a satisfying meal at any of Anthony Demetre's restaurants. First at Putney Bridge - even after he had gained a Michelin star - then at Arbutus and Wild Honey. The latter two restaurants have always been extremely popular, due in part to keen pricing and perceived value for money (=cheap, something us Brits are very keen on) but I’m afraid I just didn't get it.
Les Deux Salons is a big step up from the more modest gaffs in the collection. It occupies what was previously a barn-like Pitcher and Piano located just South-West of Covent Garden. It’s now been converted by Martin Brudzinski from pissy lager-selling, pickup joint into, well, I guess it’s supposed to be an evocation of grand European brasserie. I think Mr Brudzinski must have knocked this one out on a Friday afternoon after a few stiffeners at the Dog and Duck.
I’m afraid I didn’t like it. It all felt a bit insubstantial to me. HS said it all sounded a bit Trompe l'oeil but he’s a smartarse and nobody likes them do they? The other tables were too spread out as well (limiting numbers?) – the seating in a brasserie needs a certain density. To cap it all my table was wobbly. Not a great crime against humanity, but, still.
Unfortunately, the food failed to compensate for the dodgy décor and the wobbly service – although the latter did improve as the evening progressed.
Once I’d got over the shock of not getting a slice of orange in my Lillet Rouge and the shock to my choppers of some tough bread – why are the simple things so hard – there was the triple whammy of not seeing any sort of Bivalves or Shellfish on a Brasserie Menu. Odd seeing as big trays of Fruits de Mer going out does add a certain glamour to proceedings. And who doesn’t like a dozen on the half shell with a glass of fizz?
Instead, and more prosaically, I went for the Brawn. A little bit of me died when a plate with a small glass jar turned up. This affectation has been done to death by now and isn't an improvement over a slab of terrine. The Brawn itself was underseasoned and tasted mostly of fat without any porkiness to compensate.
The small Beetroot and apple salad was strewn with some microgreens but was a bit apologetic. What was wrong with some piccalilli - this was English Brawn after all?
The Salt Cod Brandade dish was an improvement but had a built in entertainment factor. They omitted to tell me the Parsley Cromesqui would, when speared by my fork, spurt out dark green parsley puree like some sort of alien ejaculate. Well, the waiters probably had a chuckle.
The offending Cromesqui would have been a bit better (and less dangerous) if it hadn’t been so tough. I was pleasantly surprised by the baby squid which were properly cooked and having ate my bodyweight’s worth of them in Spain recently I know from baby squid. The brandade wasn’t too shoddy either although it was quite salty. Somehow though the dish was less than the sum of its parts.
Roast Halibut with razor clams was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu so what the dish lacked in embellishments should have been made up by good ingredients and precise cooking. The quality of the Halibut was fine but it was flabby and overcooked especially surprising as they’d not managed to get any colour on it. I suspect it may have been cooked properly then left on a hot plate to cook some more.
I quite like the idea of chopping up the clam and serving it in the shell but it was tasteless and a bit rubbery. It really could have done with a a squeeze of lemon to liven it up a bit.
The accompanying veg was beyond help.
A sweet of Rum Baba – fast becoming my number one dessert choice (sorry Ice Cream, you’re so dumped) – rescued things somewhat. It was light with a decent texture and a good measure of navy rum (other brands are not available) which was poured over it at table. I was a bit wary about the thin slices of pineapple served but they worked well providing a fresh, sweet counterpoint to the rum-sodden pudding. That’s not me BTW.
I wish it wasn’t so but at the end of the meal I was thinking that I've still never had a truly satisfying meal in an Anthony Demetre restaurant. But, hey, what do I know? The other places have been enough of a success to open a 250 seater restaurant in the heart of London’s famous West End which was filled and buzzing with (apparently) happy people. Call me an old, misery-guts naysayer but for me this says more about the low expectations of London’s restaurant-going public than it does about our burgeoning London restaurant scene.