France is a large country. So it is hardly surprising that it has regional variations of food culture. This Summer I travelled around the south of France. I couldn't help but notice the difference the terrain, climate and available food produce made to the culinary and wine culture of the region when compared to the part I was more familiar with; the north.
Visiting Brasserie Zedel is a strange experience the first time. You step out of a typical West End/ Soho street and suddenly you are transported. Not just to a vision of Parisian sophistication, but a chic Paris from a bygone era.
Some of you will read that and scoff. Oh no, Snigdha is waxing lyrical over a themed restaurant! How sad, how tragic! She's finally lost it! No! That's not it at all. This isn't a theme restaurant, it's more immersive than that. The trouble that has been gone to in making it feel right is incredible. It isn't cardboard and formica. There is real attention to detail in the look and feel, from the sweet little ground floor cafe to the enormous dining room downstairs.
The dining room was apparently the former Grill Room of what had been the Regents Park Hotel. I said it was enormous, and that is no exaggeration. I daren't think how many people can be fitted in at a busy time... I think if I had to wait tables I might panic a little!
I visited Brasserie Zedel with Him Indoors and a couple of friends. We were handed the all- French menu at first. But there were still a few words beyond our yellowed, faded GCSE and O level certificate capabilities. We had to ask for one English menu to double check a few phrases.
The range of dishes is broad and varied. There are classic dishes, well known to us Brits. There are also some surprises. You can go classy or comforting, it's up to you.
The pricing is very reasonable here. It is amazingly good value for the very centre of London.
French onion soup with gratinated toasts is one of my all time favourite dishes to eat and to cook. It is a stone cold Gallic classic. Thankfully the soup was not cold at all! Piping hot with two generously sized cheesy topped toasties, it had the slow cooked onion flavour you would expect.
Fish soup (where the soup is based on the Southern French dish Bouillabaise) is another French classic dish. Served with toasted bread topped with grated cheese, this is a dish whose apparent simplicity requires much more skill from the chef than you would imagine.
The Terrine au Jambon was a perfect sized portion, not too big (given the generous size of the mains) and not too small either. Chunks of meat gave a satisfying bite. The lightly spiced chutney gave some contrast of texture and flavour which was highly complimentary.
The starters were of a high standard and went down very well with my party. So onto the main courses....
The "poulet au champagne" (chicken cooked in champagne) was essentially a posh coq au vin. My verdict would be that this was good rather than excellent. It was well presented and cooked with care, but there weren't enough of the braised chicken flavours you would want from a slow cooked dish.
We visited on a Monday, meaning that the rotating "daily special" was belly of pork braised with Puy lentils. There was no complaint about the sheer amount of pork in the dish; the picture doesn't do the size of this main course justice. Two of us went for this dish. Sadly, I was unable to finish mine. Not in any way down to a lack of quality, but because I was getting very full. This dish has deep slow cooked stock flavours infusing the lentils and tasty well cooked pork belly, one of my favourite cuts of meat.
Him Indoors and I decided to share a chocolate mousse dessert. It was billed as a dessert for two to share.
When it arrived, I will confess that my thought was that this was a dessert for one and a half people rather than two. Therefore, one of us was not going to get a full helping, and that the chances were, it would be me.
The mousse was very light. It was whipped full of air. This initially only supported my view that I would be short-changed on my pudding. However, as I dig in, spoonful by spoonful, it became clear that this was a full and hearty mousse, full of decadent chocolate richness. There was more than enough for both of us and a wonderful end to our meal. I had found my pudding belly - the extra one you call upon when you need to find space for dessert!
My friend ordered the crepe. Sadly the inside of the restaurant was too dark for my picture to capture what it looked like accurately.
The crepe ordered by my friend was light, smooth and pleasing. She enjoyed it very much. I had a little taste, but wasn't allowed more. I would say this proved it was a keeper!
We had a very enjoyable lunch, and by and large the food was very good indeed. I would return for lunch again, since it is a perfect venue for a meal in the very centre of London. It is perfect for catching up with friends in a sociable, informal yet quietly classy environment.
20 Sherwood Street
020 7734 4888
Monday - Saturday 11.30am - Midnight
Sunday 11.30am - 11.00pm
Snigdha and her friends paid for their meal with a very handy plastic card. The bill will have to be paid later....