Cheerful Continental Covent Garden Comfort Chow
There’s no shortage of mock French-style brasseries and bistros in London from chains such as Cafe Rouge and Cote to independents such as Les Deux Salons. This two floor restaurant is a mere stone’s throw away from Covent Garden, Charing Cross and The Strand. Les Deux Salons is owned by the same people behind the excellent Wild Honey and the very good Arbutus, so my expectations were heightened even though it’s firmly aimed at the pre- and post-theatre crowd where speed and low prices are typically valued more than the quality of the food.
Les Deux Salons is nothing if not a handsome place with soft lighting, dark wood panelling and brass fittings. The upper level has the benefit of the spherical chandeliers forming a dramatic centre piece in the middle of the room. Service was quick and efficient on all four of my visits – I polished off three courses at a leisurely pace, yet still managed to be in and out the door in an hour. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere then this isn’t the place for you. Although it’s hardly fusty or hushed, the clientèle of tourists and middle-aged theatre goers gives this restaurant a sedate feel.
First things first
The menu at Les Deux Salons is dominated by several crowd-pleasing French classics with a daily special main course that changes every day. On my first visit I started off with mushrooms and a poached egg on toasted brioche. The squidgy mushrooms were earthy and tangy, but the egg, while perfectly cooked, wasn’t quite as rich as I was expecting. There wasn’t enough of the small slip of brioche to go around for soaking up the runny yolk and it wasn’t especially buttery either. Must try harder.
For my main course I opted for the daily special of rabbit which was served in a very mild mustard sauce. Despite its lack of mustardy heat, or perhaps because of it, the sauce enhanced the mildly bitter richness of the spinach. The rabbit wasn’t quite as firm as I would’ve liked, but the the meat was still quite gamey and fell off the bone easily.
Crème brûlée is a classic French dessert and while I couldn’t make out the alleged vanilla flavouring, I couldn’t find fault with the crisp caramel crust or the cool, rich and eggy custard base.
Going back for seconds
I’m a big fan of steak tartare, so I had to go back and try out the version at Les Deux Salons. The raw meat was very tender, but I prefer a firmer, bouncier bite. The kitchen had gone a little overboard with the capers which also drowned out the richness of the raw egg. A little disappointing.
There wasn’t a huge amount of character in my bavette steak (also known as flank steak) cooked medium rare with most of the flavour coming instead from the sweet, tangy shallot sauce. The steak was pink and tender in the middle, although the edges were charred to the point of being well-done. This chewiness made eating some parts of this steak tough going on the jaw. The accompanying frites were unremarkable.
Although billed as a soft meringue, this dessert was actually very hard and chewy. It was encrusted with an equally unpleasant layer of overly sweet almond pieces. The only thing that made this dessert palatable was the smooth, creamy, eggy custard interior.
Third time’s the charm?
France is home to some excellent black puddings. These were naturally off-limits to the inexpensive, crowd-pleasing menu at Les Deux Salons, but the black pudding used here as a starter was still surprisingly good. The sweet, malty slices of soft pudding were a good match for the runny poached egg resulting in a salty, moreish combination that’s more than the sum of its parts.
The easily squeamish and the crushingly dull will be instantly turned off by the pungent earthy aroma of the andouillette. I’m a big fan of this traditional French offal sausage. The soft, wrinkly rolls of offal tasted especially moreish when daubed in the light and tart mustard and pepper sauce. Like the mustard used with the rabbit, it didn’t have much heat but I can forgive this given the already bold flavour of the stinky andouillette.
Despite my best efforts, one cannot live on andouillette alone, so I opted for the potato boulangère as a side dish. This light and buttery mixture of thin potato and onion slices was dotted with sweet and herby hints. Very satisfying.
For dessert, I opted for the pear and almond tart. The pastry was surprisingly thick and crusty with a dense crumb. The almond taste was muted at best, with the sweetness and delicate tartness of the pear chunks dominating. Not a bad dessert, but not an especially memorable one either.
Go fourth and multiply
The menu at Les Deux Salons is very meat-heavy with not a lot of choice for vegetarians (as befits a French restaurant). There are a few picks for pescatarians though, such as the grilled sardines. Each fish was served almost whole so deboning was required, but this wasn’t too difficult. The oily flesh had a light smokiness to it and had an almost non-existent sprinkling of chilli on top. The heat of the chilli was brought out by the small chunks of tart lemon.
I’m a big fan of duck confit, but the version here needs a little refinement. It was a bit on the small side and while it tasted perfectly fine, it wasn’t quite as dense, fatty and moreish as the very best examples of duck confit. The accompaniment of braised butter beans was a little too firm.
Rice pudding seems more like a British dessert than a French one. The version here was thick and creamy, but it was also served lumpy and chilled which won’t suit everyone. Resting in the middle was a small dollop of sweet blueberry jam which was interspersed with small pieces of fruit but these varied from chewy to tough.
There’s no doubting the speed of the kitchen and the service which benefits both the diner in a rush and the management looking for a quick turnaround of tables to maximise takings. The quality of the food can be surprising variable though ranging from good to flawed but just about satisfactory. Les Deux Salons is far from perfect, but it’s good enough for fast, generally competent continental comfort food in comfortable surroundings. The perfect place to entertain gastronomically timid in-laws visiting from the provinces without spiting your own, more discriminating stomach.
Name: Les Deux Salons
Address: 40 — 42 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DD
Phone: 020 7420 2050
Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday noon–23.00 and Sunday 11.00–18.00
Reservations: highly recommended.
Average cost for one person including service and free tap water: £30-40
Les Deux Salons
Reviewed by The Picky Glutton on
The Strand’s attractive French brasserie
The perfect place to entertain gastronomically timid in-laws visiting from the provinces without spiting your own, more discriminating stomach.