It takes guts to open a restaurant in a basement these days, but this is no ordinary basement. The master practitioners of the art of hospitality, Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, have got well into their stride now in London opening a series of restaurants with lavish interiors.
The premises of the erstwhile Atlantic Bar and Grill by Piccadilly Circus has, once again, been given the David Collins treatment, and is now metamorphosed into a grand Art Deco French style brasserie reminiscent of La Coupole in Paris. The room is large, glamorous and ballroom-like, and seats well over 200, but doesn’t feel cavernous due to clever zoning. The flat brasserie lighting completely suits the luxurious style of the room.
There are no flamboyant innovative combinations on the menu though; the emphasis is unashamedly classic French and what my companion and I had for lunch last Tuesday was almost faultless. The atmosphere is so old-fashioned Parisian, you almost feel there could be lockers available to keep a napkin and a half drunk bottle of wine for daily regulars.
The prices are, to use the current restaurant jargon for good value: democratic. And they are not just opening prices I was assured by the maître d’ who showed us to our table. Most of the starters are £2 and something, which is an absolute bargain. And so is the 2 course lunch at £8.75 which includes a grated carrot salad starter, followed by steak haché with a pepper sauce and frites. This means my cash-strapped 30 year old daughter could come here, like other people, often.
My lunch companion chose the special spinach soup, which was served in a traditional French white lion-handled porcelain tureen. Quite honestly, it was the best spinach soup I had ever tasted: as though it has been freshly picked that morning, and just lightly cooked before processing, then balanced with a little nutmeg. For me it was the classic céléri rémoulade, served completely unadorned, tasty and generous. This was followed by grilled filleted sardines simply served with half a muslin-covered lemon and dressed rocket; the trend throughout: no frills, just good value, and well prepared. Having a standard menu with set daily rotating specials means that no on-the-day changing specials are subject to a chef’s whims; everything can be prescribed in advance, down to every detail of presentation.
This is what Jeremy and Chris excel at: creating large pieces of machinery that run like clockwork, with little room for error, worked by well-trained staff who give the same attention here to refilling glasses with tap water as they would in the Wolseley or Delaunay. And then often one of the two appears in person, noticing who needs acknowledging. Consummate hosts.
The patisserie in the company is now legendary. The pastry of the lemon tart was slightly spoilt by being too chilled but the sponge-based tarte au poires Bourdaloue, sometimes a bit heavy-going, was light, moist and the pastry perfect.
One of the best things about Zedel is the absence of background music; you can actually talk comfortably to your companion against the gentle hum of restaurant noise. Yes, there is a hard wooden floor (the original parquet no less), but there are also upholstered banquettes and the gay pink damask tablecloths which combine to soften any harsh sounds.
I can’t wait to try both the adjacent Bar Américain and the Crazy Coqs, the cabaret and jazz bar next to it, both open every evening.
I’m sorry Soho, but after the ubiquitous, cramped pared-down interiors, albeit it with some wonderful food, it’s good to have a bit of predictability, comfort and glamour. It’s just more relaxing. And there’s plenty of room for everyone. True democracy.
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED
Tel: 020 7734 4888
Open Monday to Sunday – 12 noon to midnight