Covent Garden used to be a culinary wasteland, save for Rules, The Ivy, and Clos Maggiore. But its fortunes are changing, thanks to an infectious revival of decent restaurants in neighbouring Soho. The recession appears to have buoyed investors (perplexing, given the restaurant business is a fickle and unpredictable beast), and London's lauded eateries are expanding with audacious spirit. Les Deux Salons is one of many new much-hyped newcomers, the best of which include: Wright Brothers, Hawksmoor, Bill's Produce Store, Kopapa, Opera Tavern (opening soon), St John Hotel (opening soon).
Broadsheet food writers reviewing Les Deux Salons have been rapturous in their praise, but bloggers have been less so. I was intrigued (and ravenous), so checked it out.
Sitting just a few steps from Trafalgar Square, opposite the lovely Terroirs, it's certainly easy on the eye, prompting a flurry of positive adjectives....handsome, elegant, immaculate, impressive... The vast space, previously occupied by a dingy Pitcher & Piano, lends itself well to the Parisian brasserie decor, on which clearly no expense has been spared (check out the intricate mosaic floor). The food is brought to us by the brains and culinary prowess behind Arbutus and Wild Honey, so expectations were high.
First impression: this is posh for a brasserie. The waiting staff are regimental, and rather stiff, though warmed up as service progressed. And the food isn't cheap. An entree and plat du jour from the a la carte menu will set you back at least £25, and that's before side orders, booze, dessert (all those treats that double your food bill). The menu reads like a carnivores wet dream: rose veal, lamb sweetbreads, snails, tete de veau, Bayonne ham, rabbit, cassoulet, ox cheeks, belly pork, all given a sophisticated edge eg. ravioli of rose veal, fresh goat's curd, cavolo nero.
Far more reasonable was the set menu: £15.50 for three courses, with two choices for each. With a carafe of a rather lovely Rhone Clairette, we had...
Seasonal vegetable broth. Clearly catering to those on a new year detox, this soup had the potential to be far too worthy, a dull choice. But there was nothing dull about this ribollita-esque soup, a vibrant and reviving bowl of goodness, laced with decent oil and a delicate grating of Parmesan.
J's pressed beef terrine was the only dull note of the meal. The flavour was muted by it being a little hard and dry. Straight out of the fridge, perhaps.
Slow cooked rabbit with mustard sauce. A standout dish, and the best rabbit I've ever eaten. Every mouthful was savoured and induced rather indecent groans of gustatory pleasure. The rabbit flesh was moist and velvety, virtually melt in the mouth, and the creamy mustard sauce perfectly seasoned and piquant.
A decadent finish to the meal: floating island with pink pralines. Pillowy meringue sitting proud in a pool of cool vanilla custard, topped with crunchy praline. It could kill, granted, but what a lovely way to die.
J's Morbier cheese plate was a more rustic finish, but a pleasure nonetheless.
The meal for two left us only £50 out of pocket. A steal for a wonderful three course meal with wine. If they offered a little more shellfish, and keener prices throughout, it would get full marks.