Restaurant Review: Brasserie Joel, London

Annie and I have been getting a bit more adventurous when we meet up since I’ve started the blog. Instead of going back to our usual haunts, we now like to regularly try somewhere new. I’d seen Brasserie Joel mentioned a few times and I looked it up, wondering at first if there was some connection to the wonderful L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. There isn’t, but there were good reviews to be seen and so it seemed worth a try. Especially as it’s just down the road from Waterloo Station (where us SW Londoners enter the central London ‘gate’), right by Westminster Bridge.

I had a bit of time to spare when I arrived at Waterloo so instead of taking the direct route down York Road to Park Plaza Westmister Bridge, a slight monstrosity of a building that used to be a large roundabout, and where Brasserie Joel is housed, I took the scenic route along the Embankment right by the River Thames and London Eye.

It was very crowded on this sunny September early evening. Angry-looking joggers glared at tourists enjoying the best of London sights as they tried to rush past and I couldn’t help wondering why on earth anyone would choose to run – or try to – in this hub of tourist activity. I, however, took my time and unusually for the born and bred Londoner that I am, actually stopped and took photos of some of those famous sights.

To the East, I looked back on the impressive Hungerford Bridge, the pedestrian bridge that runs alongside the train lines going into Charing Cross. The Houses of Parliament stood magnificently dominating the view to the West; Big Ben rising into the sky of a fading day. I walked up steps onto the bridge itself and looked back towards Westminster.

Then I turned south to the large Park Plaza building where I was to eat.

It’s hardly a romantic or tranquil setting, if that’s what you’re looking for, and once inside, it wasn’t not clear where to go. Thankfully I’d seen on the Web that the restaurant was on the 1st Floor, so I headed up the escalators. Here I spied a menu but I was also in the lobby of a hotel and there were no instructions about where to go next (Annie had the same problem). When I eventually found the Reception desk I couldn’t help laughing that finding them had been quite a challenge. However, it turned out to be a challenge well worth taking. For Brasserie Joel is most definitely a destination to be recommended.

The dining room is sleek and sophisticated; the welcome warm and friendly but totally efficient.

While I waited for Annie and the jug of water I’d asked for, I couldn’t resist running my fingers through the pot of thyme to check it was real. It was. However, it was then removed when bread and tapenade were brought.

I was slightly surprised at the small bowl of simple, raw baby tomatoes – but they were good and sweet. The breads were delicious and the rolls warm; the tapenade was good too. Annie had arrived and we opted for the set menu, as we often do, at £16.95 for 2 courses; £19.95 for 3. And, as we also often do, chose the same food. Maybe I should have chosen differently for the sake of serious food blogging, but really, you can take things too far and for me, it’s all about fun and the good experience. We began with a goat’s cheese salad of country bread, rocket, walnuts and pomegranates.

This was immediately appealing, arriving on a wooden platter. There were two chunks of country bread, perfectly toasted and drizzled with oil, on top of which sat a goat’s cheese, still warm and oozing creamily and deliciously when cut in to. The salad was crisp and fresh tasting with a good but not overpowering dressing. It was a very good way to start the meal.

We’d each ordered glasses of wine – a Malbec for me and Sauvignon Blanc for Annie. Wine was pretty pricey; ours the cheapest at £8.25 a 250ml glass but many over £10/12. However, the wine was also very good so worth the price.

For our main course, we’d chosen roast corn-fed chicken with French peas, butternut squash and thyme jus.

Again, the presentation made it instantly appealing and it was very delicious. The chicken was moist and tender but with a lovely well seasoned, slightly crispy skin. The vegetables had a nice bite to them, the peas seemingly podded just before they were served they were so fresh; sweet cubes of butternut squash, onions and greens and a rich fragrant jus that was a perfect accompaniment.

We rarely have desserts but decided to share one and opted for chocolate panna cotta.

It turned out to be quite a large portion, so definitely big enough for sharing. Two thin slivers of dark chocolate pierced the panna cotta and were picked out and enjoyed; the delicious almond tuile broke into two wonderful mouthfuls. The panna cotta itself was less panna cotta – which should be light and wobbly – and more a chocolate pot, a rich mousse, it has to be said. A layer of creme anglaise lay over a richly decadent chocolate cream. However, whatever it was called, it was very good and we enjoyed it, agreeing that a whole one each might have been too much. We finished with mint tea.

By the time we were ready to go, we’d been there for a very pleasant two and a half hours. The dining room was reasonably busy by now but far from full, though it was a Tuesday evening. The service was very good and the meal excellent. The bill came to £30 a head, including tip, wines and tea, which we thought good value for what we’d had. I’d wondered if they’d add on the bread and tapenade as extras, but they didn’t. A little thing, but pleasing. Annie and I agreed we’d definitely be going back.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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