Ma’s birthday came around, I thought I’d treat the spring chicken to a posh meal in t’town. Covent Garden is conveniently located for them and I’d yet to visit any of the Anthony Demètre trio of Wild Honey, Arbutus or Les Deux Salons, so here was my occasion.
I love French bistro food. I love it, there’s no getting round it. Fling me the deglazed foie gras and snails. Serve me up a steaming bouillabaisse or salade de gésiers! Mmmm for lemon tart… I assumed Les Deux Salons would take these humble concepts and deliver them with some sort of extra pzazz and whop me off my chair for the prices it was charging. But no… Les Deux Salons makes good French bistro food, serves it charmingly, has a nice bubbling atmopshere, and for central London is fairly priced for its style, however it does suffer a slight tendency to whack on a ridiculous price on some things that leaves you expecting at least one element on the plate to have been zapped with liquid nitrogen or wittily redesigned using extract of frog leg essence.
I started with a gin martini with an olive. It came with a twist. No major drama, it was well made and went down a treat. My starter of fish soup was thick and rich and quite delicious, although I prefer lots of rouille and they were a tad stingy. Mum’s Maldon rock oysters were lovely, thank you Maldon. Dad’s melon and ham – well, honestly… Two tiny slivers of Bayonne ham curled around three shavings of melon so transluscent you could use them as tracing paper barely justified the £8.50 tag. This is a classic starter you want to get your noshers around, I can’t bear it fiddled with and dollied-up until it looks like a tropical cocktail decoration poised on a plate…
Next up a perfectly cooked calve’s liver with smoked bacon and sage – it came in a STAUB cast iron dish on a bed of braised cabbage that had soaked up the smokey juices. The whole affair was warming and properly French. Dad’s tagine came with a generous thick stock to pour over, and zingy harissa – the merguez sadly never came close to the juicy zingers we used to get in Strasbourg, but nevertheless it was good. My slow cooked belly of pork? Tad disappointing. It lacked my favourite part of a slow cooked pork belly – the crackling, crispy skin. This was soft and nicely seasoned as it should be, but cried out for some bite, something to crack into before the sweet fatty flesh. The braised cabbage beneath, and the lentils too were soft – no denying it was filling though!
Considering the set menu at Les Deux Salons is only £15.50 for 3 courses, you wonder how they can justify an average of £17-18 for all their mains otherwise -again this is not more than good bistro food. Considering the excitement surrounding Chabrot Bistro D’Amis – which many have raved about including Tim Barber for City AM and the lovely CheeseandBiscuits. I was sort of expecting the same kerblamo punch from the food.
Instead I got a kerblamo punch from the bill at a cool £210 for 3, with only one bottle of wine (A Chateau Lamartine, Cahors 2005 that I’d bought in Toulouse for about €4.50) and only one person taking dessert. Yoikes!
Which brings me to this commitment. No more French bistro fare, until I’ve dined at Chabrot – pay day can’t come soon enough!