Brasserie Zédel is an art deco basement brasserie just off Piccadilly that is a favourite haunt of locals and tourists alike. The dining hall, which previously housed Oliver Peyton’s Atlantic Bar & Grill, is swathed in marble, birch and brass, which alludes to a luxury price tag that in actual fact does not exist.
Though similar in décor and menu to The Delaunay, Zédel is decidedly better value for money. It is the third venture opened by restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King – creators of the Wolseley and the Delaunay (all named after discontinued car marques). The space was originally home to The Grill Room of the Regent Palace Hotel and was restored by the Crown Estate as part of a £300 million redevelopment in the area.
Once you’ve descended three flights of stairs from the bar in the entrance hall, past the burlesque room on the floor below and just beyond the American Bar on the ground floor, you will find yourself facing a vast and sprawling basement ballroom that is bathed in light.
If you have a choice of table when you arrive – and believe me, you’ll be privileged if you do – opt for one in the centre square. If you’re seated next to the bar, you’ll be waiting slightly longer for service and are situated a little too far away from the charming hustle and bustle in the centre of the restaurant. Alas, before I had a chance to request a centre table my mother had piped up to the waiter that she wanted to be seated farthest from all possible human contact – something which was an incessant irritant to her when dining out. She had ventured to London from her home in rural Lancashire and lost no time in pointing out her displeasure at the over-crowding of London to anyone who would listen – underground employees, hotel staff, taxi drivers, and a rather bemused tour guide at the British Museum.
Brasserie Zédel also accommodates the growing popularity of ‘single-dining’ in the city and offers individual diners a seat at the swinging marble bar to the far right of the ballroom. For anybody who fancies a few entrees on their lunch break, or an indulgent meal after a hard day at the office, Zédel will happily accommodate you and provide you with fast service. You certainly won’t feel out of place or looked down upon while perched on a stool at the stylish bar.
The waiting staff at Brasserie Zédel are attentive and maintain a high standard of service from the moment your peep-toe heel clips the parquet floor. Unfortunately, this attentiveness can sometimes turn into an eagerness to push your heeled foot straight back out of the door a couple of hours later due to the restaurant’s strict two-hour service policy – though this can often be pushed to one hour on busy evenings.
Luckily, I was graced with a two-hour time slot upon my arrival – providing me and my Francocuisine-phobic parents ample time to indulge in three courses from the menu. Ordering from the prix fixe will set you back a mere £9.75 for two courses and £12.50 for three. Diners are treated to lavishly dressed carottes rapées, steak haché poivre and frites served in a pewter bucket (I do wish restaurants would stop thinking this remotely stylish) with a choice of café gourmand or tarte aux fruits for desert. Both of my companions opted for the café gourmand – dark coffee served with a delicate macaron and delicious chocolate gateau.
Mr and Mrs J. Vaudrey made their way through most of the courses with decidedly less amount of grumbling and suspicion than I originally anticipated – so we must assume from this that the prix fixe menu is a thing of beauty that can never be brought into dispute.
I opted for six escargots au buerre persillé to start (£8.75); after a few tender bites I decided that I would quite happily drown in the pools of salty garlic butter that adorned them. After much trickery and bribery, I finally convinced my mother to try half, nay, approximately 0.3cm worth of escargot. She chewed this for an age, all the while looking towards the vaulted ceiling as if in some sort of silent prayer, before turning to us and exclaiming that it was the worst thing she has ever tasted in her life – again, we must presume here that the standard of escargots at Zédel is unnaturally high.
For the main, I ordered Saturday’s plat du jour – lapin au cidre et pâtes fraiches. The rabbit was tender and moist and practically fell from the bone after a little coaxing. The dish, priced at a very reasonable £13.95, benefitted from a thick and creamy cider sauce mixed in with a bed of pasta.
Pudding was a wonderfully silky crème brûlée (clocking in at £4.50) with a smooth mirror-like texture. I’m not much of a pudding fan, but indulging in a light helping of crème brûlée was the ideal way to round up a generous meal rich packed with interesting flavours and textures.
Truth be told, the menu at Brasserie Zédel is quite uninspiring – executed perfectly, yes, but rather lacking in imagination. It’s comfort food, similar to that served in Café Rouge bistros up and down the country, but with a much chicer crowd and slightly more expensive price tag. Is it too much to ask of a Parisian brasserie on English soil to stir our senses with a little more than beef bourguignon and confit du canard? That being said, we must applaud Zédel for having the guts to serve up grilled andouillette – a rather pungent French sausage that is made up of intestines, pork and onions – certainly not a staple on the menu at Café Rouge. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some poor porker’s guts actually were served up in these offensive sausages.
However, it seems churlish to complain about Zédel’s when seated in such extravagant settings. Once I sat back in my chair and surveyed my surroundings with a full stomach and slightly fuzzy head (bottles start around the £20 price mark), I felt transported back to Paris of the 1900-1920s. There is a constant sense of life, incessant snappy conversation, a rapid movement of stylish diners coming and going and the distant sounds of jazz drifting to the tables from the cabaret venue situated just a stone’s throw away from the ballroom – the Crazy Coqs.
In short, if you’re looking for a dining experience that can make just about any occasion seem special and extravagant without breaking the bank, Brasserie Zédel should be on your list of go-to places. Just don’t let the waiters hurry you along with your meals, especially if you really are marking a special occasion. My sage advice to IGT readers is to order three servings of andouillette and stare menacingly at the waiting staff with your fingers poised on the sausages if they attempt to hurry you along with your meal. I think you’ll find they disappear into the crowd faster than the poor plump man on the next table who tried in vain to order a second helping of pudding when his table time was up.