After the day we'd had, starting with a wedding in the morning and a glorious Le Vacherin lunch, there wasn't much fight left in the wife and I by the time Saturday night came around. However, my father in law was insistent he wanted to show his immense generosity once more by taking the immediate family out to dinner.
The whole day had been special, but this was a lovely way to round things off: by celebrating the coming together of two families in a private way in what, apparently, is one of the best 100 restaurants in the UK. The search to find somewhere reasonably priced for ten people had lead to a few dead-ends. Most places wanted everyone to have the exact same menu which was no fun at all. This seemed like as good a place as any, since we could easily hit the minimum £60-a-head spend whilst enjoying the privacy of their smallest function room.
Les Deux Salons is a strange place when put into context. There's nothing particularly strange about a two-storey restaurant in Covent Garden serving European-British stuff to hundreds of diners, but when it's part of the Arbutus group, who already have Michelin Stars in their other two places (Wild Honey and Arbutus), it seems a little peculiar. Of course, there is nothing wrong with expanding one's portfolio to include more affordable dining, but it is less exclusive than one might expect.
The menu reads like a disaster waiting to happen. Trying to cover every angle, it appears to be a menu in dire need of a massive trim. There's something I just can't fully trust about a restaurant where the menu reads like an inelegant list of anything the kitchen is capable of producing, as opposed to a well-thought-out, structured and innovative list of dishes. However, for a family meal it looked like somewhere that might just suffice.
The private room itself was a narrow, street-side affair which comfortably sat ten people plus coats and bags. In the event, it was just what we needed. Rather than being a stuffy, eerily silent formal surround, it was cosy enough to be comfortable and casual enough to be a little loud.
As an experience, the place was enjoyable in a low-key midweek kind of way. There is a lot of fun to be had here provided you've got the cash. It's informal and educated eating: the kind that you might find in Joe Allen and other restaurants in Covent Garden.
To business, the starters were a mixture of horrendous and rather pleasant. My snail & bacon pie had the descriptive look of a huge winner. A rough and humble French country dish it should've been, but a disaster inside a pastry crust it was. Dry, tough and salty were the three adjectives which adequately describe the misery I was putting in my mouth: horrible stuff. The wife's oysters were nothing to write home about either, a little too firm and not as slippery as great oysters can be.
Happily most of the other starters on show were received more positively. A happy combination of haddock, scrambled eggs and creme fraiche was gobbled down with relish by my sister's partner - a brave choice for him since he can be an unadventurous eater - whilst my sister-in-law exuded nothing but happiness in polishing off an assortment of crab, grapefruit and avocado.
Having had a steak for lunch, I was in the mood for something a little lighter for my main course. Sea bass with Lyonnaise potatoes was a good choice in the event (right). Sweet, tender and fresh fish was complimented by a medley of crispy potatoes and mushrooms. It wasn't a perfect dish, but it had a lot of the rustic charm that was missing from my disappointing starter.
My brother went for 'slow cooked beef with carrots, red wine sauce', which is usually called boeuf bourguignon. In the event, this was also a traditional and simple dish of the kind of quality that Les Deux Salons should be producing on every course, rather than in select cases. Therein lies the issue with a massive menu.
Desserts were enjoyable yet forgettable. A decent enough apple tart fine, creme brulee and a meringue presented as a floating island in a bowl of custard were about as good as it got, but there was nothing to scream and shout about. Maybe that's what can be said for this place: unexciting standards, some touching great.
The appeal of Les Deux Salons is its location, its lack of pretence and its wide-ranging menu. Unfortunately, the menu is what's going to hinder it from becoming much better than it is now. It hasn't got enough refinement to push the dishes on show to the next level. I can't imagine it's a place I will be desperate to go back to, but it is likely to become one of those tricky restaurants where 'it depends on what you order' becomes the mantra.
Somewhat contradictorily, the place will always hold a special resonance for me since this was the location for a lovely evening meal with a newly-joined family. We all had a lovely evening despite being fairly worn out from a long day. Maybe this is the key selling point for Les Deux Salons: a great venue for a family meal out in central London.
Les Deux Salons