I’ve noticed the Observer‘s Jay Rayner praise Brasserie Zedel a few times. From Mr Rayner, this means a lot. So I’ve been thinking I must try it and then a few weeks ago passed it by chance and duly noted its location, promising myself to return soon. Having decided to take another of my midweek ‘holidays’ in-between freelance jobs today, partly inspired by an invitation to a Members’ Preview of the John Singer Sargent exhibition about to open at the National Portrait Gallery, lunch first at Brasserie Zedel seemed an excellent plan.
Brasserie Zedel (click here for website) is tucked into a corner of small streets just off Piccadilly Circus. You enter through a café where you can have a coffee, drink or snack, and where a line of newspapers hang in that quintessential Parisian way from wooden poles. To get to the brasserie you have to go down lots of wide stairs, deep into the subterranean interior. As someone who has always been frightened of dungeons this journey into the deep unknown could have been quite fearful. Fortunately, Brasserie Zedel’s interior is such an exciting experience of La Belle Époque-Art Deco opulence that fear wasn’t on the agenda. Instead, I was immediately delighted by the place.
The entrance opens into a huge expanse of what was once a hotel’s ballroom – a history marked by its marble columns and gilded lighting – and is now the main dining area. I was struck by how it really did seem like a grand Parisian brasserie. A small group of three in front of me were told there was a wait of 30 minutes for a table (it was just after 1.00pm). My hopes of eating there plummeted but I asked anyway and found that because I was alone and happy to sit at the bar, I could be seated immediately. Being a ‘single diner’ was suddenly a bonus and sitting at the bar is perfect for lunch when I am on my own.
The menu offers the best of French eating: Soupe à l’Oignon, Parfait de Foies de Volaille, snails and Céleri Rémoulade. Mains offer a choice of Choucroute (an Alsatian recipe of dressed sauerkraut) and classics such as Boeuf Bourguignon, Onglet Grillé and Confit de Canard. They even serve Andouillette sausages – tripe sausages – which I’ve always found too much for me. They bring back memories of mistaken orders for my kids when they were young and we were in France. They weren’t the kind of sausages they liked to eat! There was much to tempt me but since it was lunchtime I decided to go with the prix fixe menu: 2 courses for £8.95; 3 for £11.75. There was no choice – except when it came to dessert – but since I’m happy to eat most things it wasn’t a problem. And it did sound wonderfully French. I ordered a small glass of Pinot Noir to go with it, and some tap water, which pleasingly came in a carafe.
The basket of bread and gorgeous French butter kept me going while I waited for starter to arrive. I have an addiction to good bread and this bread was so good it would be worth a visit to Brasserie Zedel just to eat it. I began with Carottes Rapées.
Only the French (or in the case Brasserie Zedel) could make grated carrot taste this good. A little shallot had been added to the dressing; a delicate shower of chopped parsley lay on top. The dressing was perfect, adding to the overall flavour, not overwhelming the carrot which was sweet and had a lovely fresh bite. The main course was Steak Haché with Sauce au Poivre and Frites.
A steak haché is basically a French hamburger – pan-fried chopped steak. But how many hamburgers taste this good? I’d ordered it medium-rare and it was done to perfection.
The steak was delicious and tender and the accompanying pepper sauce a delight of taste and creaminess. The frites were perfectly salted and crisp. This was all too good to deny myself dessert. Especially when Café Gourmand was on offer – and at only another £2.80 with the set menu. You can barely buy a coffee on its own for that in central London.
The coffee came in a cafetière and was strong and delicious. The two little cakes were wonderful: a delicate macaron and delicious chocolate gâteau. What a fabulous meal; a great atmosphere and friendly service. But also incredibly good value. With my glass of wine at £5.20 (there were cheaper) and the addition of a tip, the total bill came to £19.50. They added 15% service and usually I baulk at that a bit, but in this case, the meal was such good value and so delicious that I paid it quite happily. Brasserie Zedel is a great find, in a wonderful location and it would be good to return in the evening sometime for an à la carte meal and to enjoy some of the live jazz that plays in the evening.