Sunday, 7 November 2010

Les Deux Salons: one to recommend

When one food-loving acquaintance whose judgement I trust recommends a restaurant, I’m all ears. When two of them do, it goes to the top of my list. When three or more are all championing the same place, it’s clearly time to drop everything and go.

Which is pretty much how it was with Les Deux Salons. Except that before going myself, I recommended it to another friend who was after ideas for a new weekend nosh place. ‘Go to Les Deux Salons,’ I said, confidently. ‘Everybody’s talking about it, and it’s all good.’

And so I sat back, happy that I’d done my good deed for the day. And then. And then I started to worry. I scolded myself for being lazy. I should have gone to LDS first before mentioning it to others. Or should I? Didn’t other positive feedback count? Could I really trust those who had gone before me? What if it wasn’t up to much after all? What if, what if?

Aaargh. Cue much anguished hand-wringing and soul searching.

But lo. The appointed day came around. And I received a message: “It was fab. So grateful for recc. You must go”. Shortly followed by: “Superb lunch at Les Deux Salons. Quince, wet walnut, dolcelatte salad, saddle of rabbit + pumpkin gnocchi, Paris Brest.”

THANK. MY. STARS. And – where’s my phone?

Skip forward a few days, and I finally arrived at LDS to see/hear/smell/taste for myself.

Les Deux Salons exterior

I must admit, I was already favourably disposed – not just because of the impressive reviews I’d been hearing, but also because of the menu, handily displayed on LDS’s website. There is NOTHING on there that I didn’t want to eat, or dip my head into, as Gregg Wallace would say.

First impressions? Niiiiice. Smart, in a chilled kind of way. Slick, but not creepy with it. Definitely salon-like. Resembles a centre ville bistro/restaurant in a respectable French town. Buzzy and busy. Lots of people already there, munching away, looking and sounding happy. Plenty of staff, whizzing around quietly and efficiently. Shiny new well-stocked bar, already doing plenty of trade.

Les Deux Salons bar

Not two moments after entering and disrobing, The Other Diner and I were – in true brisk French fashion – swiftly seated at our linen-covered table and brought menus, a generous basket of fresh bread, butter, and water.

Les Deux Salons table

Unremarkable, you might think, except that a little mention at this point should go to the set menu...

Les Deux salons set menu

... which, at 3 lip-smacking courses for a shade under £16 has – surely – to be most outrageously bargainous lunch in London right now. Prove me wrong.

But my tastebuds had already been well and truly tickled by the à la carte menu, so, as tempting as the set menu seemed, it was cast aside for another visit. THIS time, I was after the full whackeroo.

Between us, The Other Diner and I ordered the ravioli of rosé veal, fresh goat’s curd, cavolo nero and the lamb sweetbreads ‘Bouchée à la reine’ to start, and then, to follow, the saddle of rabbit, pumpkin gnocchi and hazelnuts, and the slow-cooked ox cheeks and parsnip purée.

While all that lot was being cooked, we dribbled expectantly and occasionally slurped a jolly good, crisp, Grüner Veltliner. It was all rather, well, cosseting.

Soon enough, the feast appeared before us, carried on huge trays by two serving staff – neatly attired in shirts, ties, and long aprons, French-stylee – who then waited momentarily for a senior waiter to arrive (differentiated by their shirts of random colour, no ties, and no aprons, since you ask*) and to actually present us with our food. Yes, it’s the little details, and I have no shame in admitting that I like ‘em.

So, anyway – the food. First up, the ravioli:

Les Deux Salons ravioli

I didn’t get much of a look-in, but I was assured that the ravioli were parcels of savoury loveliness (my one bite did at least confirm as much). You’d think that combining rosé veal, fresh goat’s curd, and cavolo nero so as to achieve a finished mixture that reveals each flavour and yet also comes together to produce something tastier even than the sum of its parts would be a tad tricky. Under Anthony Demetre’s stewardship (he of Arbutus and Wild Honey), apparently not.

My jumped-up vol au vent, meanwhile, was no less arresting. In a cardiac kind of way.

Les Deux Salons lamb sweetbreads

Boy, it was good. Mushroomy, buttery, creamy deliciousness with treaty little sweetbreads to match. The pastry? Fab, faultess, and only succumbing to sogginess once it had done at least three circuits of my plate to soak up stray sauce.

Blimey. So good so far and still 2 more courses to go? I let out a notch on my belt, and sat back comfortably into my obligingly squidgy seat.

Up next, our mains – the ox cheeks and the rabbit. Well, I guess if you’re the critical type, you might seize upon the fact that slow-cooked ox/cow/pig cheeks are the lamb shanks of a few years ago. A bit of a restaurant cliché. Still, there’s a reason for that. They’re bloody tasty and a joy to eat. I’m sure I will get tired of eating them one day, but that day isn’t coming around any time soon. I can vouch for this particular bulgesome beauty, which was every bit as good as it looks:

Les Deus Salons ox cheek

My saddle of rabbit wasn’t far behind, if at all, in the pleasure-giving stakes. Lovely tender, positively succulent rabbit, kept perfectly moist, with sweet pumpkin gnocchi and hazelnuts. Need I really say more? I couldn’t, in any case, because my mouth was stuffed full with it.

Les Deux Salons saddle of rabbit

A minor niggle was that my plate featured the same mushrooms and carrots that I’d had with my bouchée, but then that’s hardly the restaurant’s fault unless they were serving them up with every main dish, which they weren’t. Still, it was perhaps fortunate that we’d ordered sides of braised endive and winter greens. I can’t describe the endive any better than how it was described to me by the friend I’d ‘sent’ there a few days previously: “the braised endive with orange. Deelish! Almost like a pudding. You can really taste the Very Best French butter. Yum.” So there you are.

By this stage, my only concern was whether LDS had a dormitory upstairs in which happily sated customers could spend a half hour or so for a post-lunch nap.

Fond daydreams of fresh bedlinen and plumped pillows were, however, chirpily interrupted by the effervescent co-owner, Will Smith. “Are we desserting?” he trilled at us, with an encouraging grin. Hah! The answer is yes, and thrice, YES, I do believe we are. So – again acting on hot tip-offs – we opted for the Paris Brest and the floating island.

And here, dear reader, I confess that pure greed overcame me. I managed a photo of the Paris Brest, but in my haste to get my gnashers around the floating island, the intricate technicalities of getting a point-and-shoot to focus were beyond me. It’s not as though the rest of my pics are particularly brilliant, I know, but this one was so shamefully bad that I just can’t bring myself to reproduce it here. Instead, I will return to LDS, order it again, and try once more. The things I do.

In the meantime, here’s the Paris Brest:

Les Deux Salons Paris Brest

Yes, it was as big as it looked. Audley Harrison fist-sized. Halfway through, The Other Diner declared an inability to manage it all. Barely two minutes later, it had disappeared entirely. Uh-huh. Draw your own conclusion.

My floating island, a rather more refined affair, arrived in a charming silver bowl, a fat cylinder of Persil-white meringue puff decorated with Barbie-pink pralines sitting atop thickly vanilla-spotted custard. It looked pretty. It ate pretty. Actually, it was rather better than that.

I suppose I’d anticipated a confection somewhat on the sweet and sickly side. No bad thing in my book, and that’s why I ordered it. But it wasn’t. There was indeed a good sugary hit on first bite, but nothing overpowering. It was moreish, not cloying, in its sweetness. The pink pralines added crunchy interest and welcome nuttiness. And the custard was a marvel. I simply don’t understand how you can make custard so that it’s comforting and refreshing – yes, refreshing – at the same time. But then that’s why Anthony Demetre holds Michelin stars and I’m a paying punter. Sir, I salute you.

Good coffee? Check. Oh, and chocolate truffles? Don’t mind if I do.

On this form, Les Deux Salons is onto a winner. I really, really hope they keep up the standard, because I really, really want to be able to keep going back there. It’s a fun place to be but, more importantly, the food was flippin’ fabulous. I personally can’t wait to go back.**

* There may also have been other, more subtle distinctions of seniority based on choice of belt and/or shininess of pointy-toed shoes. If so, they eluded me.
**(Or to be able to recommend it to others with an entirely clear conscience...)

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