Friday, 24 June 2011

Les Deux Salons review and Ruth Ford's Must Drink!

It was an unfortunate decision - to celebrate his birthday on a Tuesday night. We should have just gone for late night Vietnamese.

I like to think it was everyone else’s fault, Giles', Adrian's, Guy's, though I only have myself to blame. You see, the reviews for Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden were stirling.


If I’d gone and opened a restaurant, hard-grafted and walloped £2million on this interior as Will Smith and Anthony Demetre have done, I wouldn’t mind being billed by FT’s Nick Lander as a “serious contender to the Ivy” either.

Herefordshire snail & bacon pie and salt cod brandade, sauté of young squid, parsley cromesqui

And the grand entrance, on William VI street, suggested this would be the place to exercise the art of dining . This is the restaurant of occasion! the doorway states, in all high pillared splendour. Pushing through the heavy door, our entrance felt akin to shimmying down the grand staircase of a country manor. Les Deux Salons is so different from its counterparts, Arbutus and Wild Honey, which have that Soho inclusive snugness I so love.

We were shown to our table, which was in the thick of things. And it was from this point the occasion fell apart.

Roast saddle of rabbit, spring chard, carrot purée

Efficiency is not a sin. But dishes flew from the kitchen with such efficiency that I felt like the naughty kid for chatting and I forgot to chew (we were interrupted about five times). Wines were not recommended with certainty, which was slightly unsettling. We sat almost knee to knee with the tables either side of us - awkward if you’re with your boyfriend.

Bavette steak, caramelised shallot sauce

The food, however, was joyous. There was a masterpiece of a snail and bacon pie, a saddle of rabbit, a sweet, slightly-marshmallowy floating island with pink praline for dessert. But the one thing that I would do star-jumps for is their bavette steak. Their thick, meaty, manly flank - infused with the pungent smoke from a Josper charcoal grill. It was coarse and wonderful, a glorious punchy red-pink inside. And I’d warrant that everything that erupted from that grill would taste as brilliant as this steak.

Floating island with pink praline & custard

A place to linger? Hardly. Too high-adrenaline for me. If this was a bistro - then I'd be happy here - a carafe of red and a manly steak would do just fine. But a bistro it ain't. Song Que can expect a call next year.

Les Deux Salons
40-42 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DE
020 7420 2050

Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Ruth Ford’s Must Drink!

Helena made the very excellent decision to drink carafes of wine with her dinner. I am a huge fan of carafes: being able to order a wine in 250ml instead of a 750ml bottle gives you the freedom to have different wines with every course, and the confidence to try wines you wouldn’t normally, because if it turns out you don’t like it, it’s not as expensive as a bottle would have been, and you can simply choose another one.
More and more restaurants are offering wines by the carafe and this is to be APPLAUDED. I look forward to the day that every restaurant offers every wine on its list by the carafe and glass…
However I was slightly – just slightly – disappointed by the wines that had been recommended to Helena. A Chardonnay and a Cabernet Merlot, whilst both perfectly acceptable as matches for the dishes chosen, are just a bit safe, especially given the incredible choice of wines that Les Deux Salons offers by the carafe (massive thumbs up).
So this is a post about the wines that Helena could have had…
With the warm salt cod brandade and the snail and bacon pie, something thirst slaking is needed, to counter all the salt, but also with enough richness to cope with the textures and weight of the two dishes.
The Grüner Veltliner, Gmörk, Anton Bauer, Wagram (Austria) would have done the trick, with enough body and spice notes to match the flavours of both dishes, but also plenty of crisp freshness to cut through the saltiness. Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s signature white grape and if you haven’t tried it, do. It’s a great alternative to ‘usual’ light white wines like Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, and very good at matching with all kinds of foods.
Salt cod brandade

The bavette and saddle of rabbit are perhaps a bit trickier to find one wine for. The steak was meaty and smoky while the rabbit was light, so we need a wine that will cosy up to the steak without making the rabbit feel intimidated.
The Savigny-lès-Beaunes, ‘Les Bas Liards’, Rossignol-Changarnier, Burgundy (France), made from Pinot noir grapes in one of the more affordable villages of Burgundy, would go down a treat. Plenty of flavour for the steak, and yet light and silky enough for the rabbit.
From the cheaper end of the list, the Rosso di Montepulciano, Cantina Crociani, Tuscany (Italy) would also be good. The little brother of the more famous (and expensive) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, it’s made from the Sangiovese grape and would be lively enough for the rabbit, whilst having enough fruit and savoury flavours not to be overpowered by the steak.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

There’s no denying the childhood fantasy with bars like The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. Stumble across unlikely room, find hiding place, open wardrobe, discover other world.

Familiar? Yes, but swap wardrobe with SMEG fridge, and unlikely room with the Breakfast Club Cafe and there you have Narnia cocktail-shaken with retro design.

The speakeasy in London is spreading like glandular fever. There are the classics - Milk and Honey in Soho, and stunning additions the Nightjar, ECC and Lounge Bohemia who take The Cocktail to another level. But these are all hidden behind unmarked doors, often with bouncers brimming with menace and a cocky smile as you walk in.

But there’s no unmarked door here. Just a SMEG fridge you think stocks ham and cheese but actually stocks an underground bar, DJ and about 50 people. Walk through and like Doctor Who's tardis, or Narnia, you discover the world is bigger on the inside.

What also comes with this fantasy is that element of smugness, the whole - being in the know - that makes you a little annoying but helps your G&T taste a whole lot better.

I’m surprised bars such as this one aren’t more prolific - in New York, Please Don’t Tell has been around for years, a hot dog joint with a telephone box that’s the doorway to the drinking establishment.

And so I salute the Mayor of Scaredy Cat for bringing grown-up fantasy to London.

Here are the main reasons I love this place:

1. It’s not full of trendy kids who speak a different language to me.
2. They spun Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance. Who does that any more?
3. Tasked with surprising us (three boys, four girls) with drinks, they embraced the challenge and made us seven different cocktails.
4. I like SMEG.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining the fantasy, but for a place to drink that gives you more than the usual high-prices, bad chat and overcrowding, come here instead for an antidotal wink, a nod and a smugness you’re entitled to have.

To make a reservation visit the website

Thanks to Beth and Vivi for the photos

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
SMEG fridge
The Breakfast Club
12-16 Artillery Lane
E1 7LS