Early this summer, Joanne and I will embark on a culinary hunt in the south of France and Barcelona as well.
But as much as we explore relevant culinary regions around the globe in pursuit of new ideas, plating innovations, recipes and products for our PARASOLE family of restaurants, we often find ourselves returning to Paris and London. Both cities are target-rich with restaurants, markets, chefs, innovation and culinary vitality.
I’d say that we are equally fond of both cities…but for different reasons. London has more variety and over the past fifteen years or so has experienced a stunning restaurant awakening. New and wonderful, creative and witty new spots…innovative and inventive chefs, and an immense diversity of ethnic venues…just damn fun.
Paris, on the other hand, tends to be more serious and slavish to French tradition…especially the offerings in the bistros and brasseries. Plus, I find that the restaurants in France are more democratic and approachable, probably because demanding good food is a way of life and not the sort of middle-class hobby that it is here or in London.
As a posting by the blog, Cake and Fine Wine, puts it:
In France…“If you go to the market on Saturday morning, it is because that is where the cheapest and freshest produce is to be found, not as some kind of validating leisure activity…If you go to the bakery every day, which you most certainly do, it’s because you wouldn’t want anything but the freshest bread with your evening meal.”
Now let me tell you, do not assume that everyone in France eats fresh, locally-sourced, unprocessed, meticulously prepared food all the time. Joanne and I can tell you from experience that there are a lot of “not too good” restaurants in Paris, just as there are brilliant ones.
What do the two cities have in common? Fine and fancy chef-driven restaurants are hellishly expensive (Joanne and I don’t go there because they are not relevant to anything we do here at PARASOLE), but good restaurants in both cities are expensive as well – owing to rent factors, unfavorable exchange rates etc.
Which brings us to today’s topic…
BRASSERIE ZEDEL in London.
Zedel is a grand Parisian-style brasserie, and I do mean grand. It’s big, it’s stunning, opulent, lavish…and subterranean – out of site, so hidden that not many tourists even know it’s there, even though it’s just steps from the congested nightmare of Piccadilly Circus.
On each of the three occasions Joanne and I have dined there, our meals have been delicious and perfectly prepared. Service was professional, knowledgeable and discreet, and as A.A. Gill stated in the London Times, “Servers are slightly brusque and crisscross Zedel’s floor like a swarm of worker ants.” That there is exceptional food and service should come as no surprise…as the restaurant is owned by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who also own the Wolseley nearby…one of our favorite London restaurants.
What is a surprise is this: Despite the beautiful, over-the-top Belle Epoch, marble-clad dining room, Zedel is cheap. Not inexpensive – CHEAP! On our last trip to London, Joanne and I ordered the three-course prix fixe lunch and paid just 13.75 pounds each. Had we done the two-course version, it would have been 10.75 pounds. And wine begins at just 16 pounds per bottle.
Lunch can cost less than a sandwich at other places.
I think what the owners have done here is pure genius…
They’ve taken a third-tier location – actually, a fourth-tier basement space (CHEAP rent) – right in the heart of the city, dressed up to the nines, staffed it up with proven talent, and consequently are able to put out great food and great service at roughly half the price of similar restaurants in their segment.
If you’re planning a trip to London, this is valuable information. Here’s a sampling of the dishes Joanne and I have enjoyed over the past few visits (all prices in pounds).
Appetizers: Raw oysters…pristinely fresh, fat and briny at 2.75 each…Shrimp Cocktail with Remoulade Sauce (7.50)…Smoked Salmon with Brioche Toast and Chicken Liver Mousse and Pork Paté en Croute (both 7.25).
Chilled English Pea Soup with Crème Fraiche (2.75).
See what I mean? And keep in mind, this is LONDON.
Their best sellers? Steak Haché au Poivre will run you just 9.75 – and that includes fries or salad. Fancy the Sunday Roast of Beef Brisket in Red Wine? That’s just 15.75! There’s also Lamb Rump Steak (17.75) and Pork or Smoked Seafood Choucroute (both 16.25). The Smoked Seafood Choucroute was my favorite, but it has been removed from the menu since my last visit. Must not have sold).
There are fresh seafood choices as well, including Dorade and Trout Amandine – both delicious, both 16.75. And a generous bowl of fish stew with serious chunks of shellfish costs 19.75.
Saturday night special: Lapin a la Moutarde (yeah, that’s Thumper) with mustard sauce is 15.75.
Table-sized side dishes run about 3.75 and desserts clock in between 4.50 and 6.75. But do not miss the Cheese Trolley, wheeled up tableside. Full-flavored offerings include unpasteurized selections, not all of them French. Definitely get the Stilton.
Remember, these are LONDON PRICES. You can dine in a beautiful space, feel good about yourself and enjoy a two-hour leisurely dinner, all at an unbelievable value.
What you’ve got here is a SAFE HARBOR in London – for lunch, for a meal before the theater, or after the theater – or, hell, instead of the theater.