Brasserie Zédel will no doubt receive it’s fair share of compliments. A bit like a fake designer handbag would. It looks good and you might even mistake it for the real thing, but deep down you know it isn’t. I imagine a lot of the glowing reviews are down to the price, which is remarkably cheap, not only for Piccadilly but for any restaurant in London. For less than £30 a head you get a three courser with wine, or if you go for the prix fixe menu 3 courses for only £11.75, for what is essentially good safe French cooking. But there’s more to a meal than saving on the pennies, and whilst it might give the illusion of grandeur, apart from the price Zédel underwhelms on everything else.
We turned up early to try Bar Américain, an Art Deco styled bar, with a bit of a speakeasy 1920s feel to it. It’s an impressive to look at but it did feel a little false, almost like a waiting room rather than a bar in it’s own right. And something about the whole vibe reminded me of Disney. The cocktails soon got our attention, and the menu is made up of familiar range of classics, priced either £9.75 or £11.75, hardly cheap but this is Central London. We worked our way through about half of the list, and the Manhattan was especially good.
We then ventured into the main dining room to check if our table was ready (they didn’t come to get us). Even though we were on time, it wasn’t ready. So we had another drink standing at the bar in there; a lovely dark French beer and a decent glass of French red, and this allowed us to take the place in. It is huge and grand, but a lot more in-your-face grand than other brasseries in London. With the big clocks and marble pillars I couldn’t help but feel that it resembled a huge train terminal.There were easily three hundred covers, but rather than giving it a great buzz, it is all a bit too much. Like a big canteen, rather than a luxury brasserie you will happily indulge in for the next couple of hours.
The service didn’t help shake this train-terminal feel. The waiters operate as if they are in the army, regimentally sticking to their assigned columns. At one point I asked a waiter from another column for the wine list and he didn’t know how to respond. I was expecting the cogs to burst out of his ears. The staff are well trained, but almost too much so, to the point they forget all manners or that they are allowed to talk. It can’t be an easy place to work given the sheer volume of diners, but more needs to be done to make it a personal experience.
The first thing to note is that you’ll need a French dictionary with you because the menu is mainly in French without translations. I hate it when restaurants do this. I don’t care if it’s authentic, I’m in London, I don’t speak French, and as was the case here we didn’t have a helpful waiter so I had to look several things up on my iPhone. The next is just how cheap it is. I’d heard it was cheap here, but not this cheap. Soup for £2.25! You’d struggle to get it for that price in Tesco.
To start I went for French onion soup (£4.25), that was fine, although a little thin. My partner went for the sardines à la provençale (£6.25) that tasted very fresh and the dish had a nice balance to it. Neither were particularly exciting, but instead were safe choices to churn out hundreds of during a busy night.
For main I had duck confit with puy lentils, bacon lardons and cabbage (£14.75). It was a fine duck dish, hitting all the right notes, the saltiness of the duck and bacon a perfect match with the earthy lentils. But again it was just good French cooking. Nothing extravagant. It certainly didn’t match the setting. My partner went for the Choucroute (£14.95), a dish of sweaty sauerkraut with a posh hot-dog limp in the middle. I’m not sure why she ordered it because there were a lot better things to choose from. It was a mistake on our part, and neither of us particularly enjoyed it, and being the gentleman that night I begrudgingly agreed to swap half way through.
For dessert it was a perfectly refreshing lemon tart, a steal at £3.50, and a creamy Crème Brûlée again far tastier than it’s £4.50 price tag. We washed it down with good coffee that came with petit fours, and it was a strong end to the meal.
To see a bill for under £65 for two with wine and service is remarkable in London, especially when considering the surroundings. There is no knocking the value you get at Zedel. There’s almost no need for it to be so cheap. But I was left wondering what the point in it all was. Is it just to make a grand brasserie more of an everyday affordable experience? To me the point of these grand brasseries is just that, they are grand, and the prices match. They are a special occasion place, where the service matches the fine cooking, and the overall experience is one of luxury and indulgence. Here you feel like you have got a real bargain, but just like that fake designer handbag it isn’t the real thing.
There are lots of restaurants nearby that give you much better food and service for the same price. Here you are just a table in a huge machine that churns out hundreds of covers every night. You eat, you pay, you leave. Thank you very much, show yourself out. Next! So if you want impersonal service and adequate French food served up in a train station, then go to Zedel. But for all of you who want to eat in a real grand brasserie go to The Delaunay.
20 Sherwood St, London W1F 7ED