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Les Deux Salons

November 20, 2010

To Les Deux Salons, the latest outpost of the Arbutus/Wild Honey empire. Where Arbutus is all clean lines and Wild Honey mansionhouse wood panelling, this time they’ve gone for a fully Parisian feel: it’s a huge space, a dining hall on two floors, walls hung with tarnished mirrors. The food is rustic and (unsurprisingly) French-focused: bouillabaisses, cassoulets, tartares. There’s a different special each evening throughout the week, though none of us fancied the aforementioned bouillabaisse (I’ve been burned before — not literally — by bouillabaisse, or more specifically by a certain Edinburgh restaurant which seemed to think it just meant half-and-half fish-stock and bones). It reminds me a bit of Pastis in New York, but a little more formal; to the Monkey, however, it was faintly reminiscent of Le Dôme or one of those “French bistro” chains which were all the rage a few years back but seem to be on the wane. For the area, though, I feel it’s a major stop forward; in permanently tourist-thronged Covent Garden, the best you can normally hope for is bog-standard tapas, dubious pizzerias, and canteens serving ‘Mexican-style’ or ‘Asian-style’ food more or less interchangeably. A more-or-less standalone, good quality restaurant could do very well there.

Les Deux Salons’s current big talking point is their snail and bacon pie, which the Monkey ordered as a starter. It arrived as a one-pot dish almost entirely encased in puff-pastry, a metal handle protruding at either side, reminiscent of Desperate Dan’s cow pie. I’m a relatively new convert to the snail, which nonetheless seemed to me to sit slightly uncomfortably in the creamy bacon sauce: more fishy-tasting than the last time I tried it. I like the idea of doing something more interesting with the gastropod than simply drenching it in garlicky, herbed butter, but am not sure this variant was entirely the snail’s best friend.

I tried the ravioli of rosé veal, cavalo nero and goat’s curd, which surprisingly involved no pasta, the cheese and cabbage being folded instead into a soft disc of the veal. A slather of lemon oil added necessary zest and tasty enough, but I must admit to being faintly disappointed at the lack of pasta!

The Monkey opted for the slow-cooked ox cheeks with parsnip for his main, which he raved about. I’m not a fan of cheek, finding the texture simultaneously too gelatinous and too stringy (too overtly fleshly?), but he, a big fan, enjoyed it greatly. I had the ‘young chicken’ cooked with lemon and garlic, which arrived in its own pot, substantial in portion — as always a joy to eat chicken that actually tastes of chicken, rather than the usually flavourless supermarket stuff, but the lemon and garlic were subtle to the point of undetectable, and could easily have stood to be a little more prominent beside the robustly-flavoured chicken. A side order of puréed potato (again served in a tiny copper pan) was luxuriant in texture and seemed just on the right side of the Robuchon variant (ie less than 50% of it was butter).

For dessert, I went for the ever reliable îles flottantes — ‘floating islands’ of soft poached meringue, topped with crunchy pink praline, on a little lake of sweet, not overly thick crème anglaise. This recipe turns up in Today’s Special, the Arbutus cookbook of a couple of years ago, and so it was nice to compare this with the rather more guggy results of my attempt to make it (poaching a meringue, like stuffing a mushroom, may fall into the category of ‘life’s too short to try this at home’). It’s an intensely sugary dish, this smallish serving just the right quantity to avoid the diner feeling the ravages of instant tooth decay. The Monkey ordered Paris Brest — a sort of giant choux pastry filled with almond cream, perhaps more of a teatime treat than a dessert per se — and had his pronunciation ostentatiously corrected by our waiter, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

Thankfully for such a big place the acoustics aren’t terrible and one isn’t, as in some other places (Arbutus at lunchtime springs to mind), more aware of the topic of conversation at the next table than at one’s own. Nonetheless we agreed that the cavernous size of Les Deux Salons and its rustic, straightforward menu means it’s more of a lunch than dinner place. Covent Garden can only benefit from a new, non-chain restaurant, and I’d have no hesitation about revisiting, although would likely order rather differently next time.
Les Deux Salons is at 40–42 William IV Street, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4DD.

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From → Food

2 Comments
  1. Hmmm. Sounds not a million miles away from B’s & my recent experience at Arbutus…
    http://sebastianroach.blogspot.com/2010/11/arbutus-ah-but.html

    Thanks for putting me on the blog roll btw. Appreciated.

    • saintthefireshow permalink

      I was thinking about your ‘texture comments’ when writing this, actually, and reflecting that while my choices didn’t fall foul of the too-soft problem, the Monkey’s cheek-and-puree main could have benefited from something crunchy or otherwise sparky. I think Wild Honey remains the standout (not just for the honeycomb ice cream, though that is pretty amazing)…

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