The Agony and the Ecstasy – Brasserie Zedel

First, it was La Galateria, with its disappointing atmosphere. Then there was Da Bomb with it’s disastrous attempt at taste. Then there was Taco Bell with its savoir faire attitude to food. Then there was the Gallipoli campaign of La Travatorria.

“God this place is achingly quaint.”

Folks, we need a win. Times are hard. It’s not been good. It’s time to pull out big guns and little fucks. It’s time to go where the Poet of Cuisine hasn’t dared entered before. It’s been there since the start. On the periphery. On the to do list. There is but one place in London you can go where the quality is an open goal. Just one small problem . . .

You ever get the feeling that you’re punching above your weight?

David vs Goliath

Time was I was wrestling with brown paper bags against the cold weather down Brick Lane chomping on a salt beef beigel. One mere year later and we’re in Piccadilly, eating at one of the most loved and respected places in London. This ain’t a place a food critic goes to unless you’ve earned it. Unless your teeth are well and truly cut.

Example? So loved by A.A. Gill (PBUH) he co-wrote an entire book on the place. What the hell do we have to contribute to this?! We’re laughing while writing. It’s a perfect David vs Goliath story for the ages. The hapless wanna be versus the seasoned pro.

The main dining hall is situated directly underground directly beneath the tube, but there’s no sense of noise or that you’re in the beating heart of London. This place has its own calm style, no rushing or urgency in the staff. Hushed lighting and rushed intimacy.

‘Nuff said.

The interior is a lush, Art Deco style. It’s like stepping back in time with Gatsby and Sally Bowles. It’s a big, beautiful place that drips opulence in its mix of old timey and modernism. It’s chief architect, Oliver Percy Bernard, pioneered the Art Deco style and commissioned his streamlined work from the Prince Regent Hotel into the Zedel. In a word, it is opulence. Not just opulent, this place is opulence as in definition of. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, this is probably where Sinatra would go when he was in town. The regular I came with quoted as not having changed the layout or the decor in the 15 years they had been coming here. That’s either confidence or just knowing whether to break something that ain’t worth breaking.

“. . . It’s a beautiful blend, a savory roast of a classic dish. . . “

This menu is a prime example; extravagant and audaciously big. But you don’t need to see the menu, the entire cookbook with all recipes are available to buy and see for yourself.

Next door is live jazz from Bar Americain. Sadly, what I’ve discovered coming here is that Zedel is too much to take in on one night. Too expansive and dynamic. Tonight it’s just me and the food. Just the way I likes it.

There’s always tables for walk ins, which to me gives it a familiar club style venue. They’ve pulled off the impossible here folks, a friendly restaurant in zone 1. Regular says “hello, is there possibly a table for two, just for an hour?” Right this way please.

At our table we have an endless amount of offer for our glasses, our bread, and butter. And what bread and butter! Coming to the table fresh and hot, crumbly soft and dryly moist with some of the good butter, full fat and salt loaded on top. I mean I’m ranting about the bread and butter before getting to the starter!

God, this place is achingly quaint. Palladium marble walls and pillars, with hushed, rosy romantic lighting. It’s like they’re expecting sweet nothings to be uttered here, amongst the wine list and the piano.

I have always had one motto when it comes to cooking: the chef doesn’t care about your diet. And it’s nice to know they share this principle. To this end the butter is obnoxiously salty and fatty. In the best possible way.

Even the orange juice has a vital tart to it that is missing in other places, some of them the same street.

“Would you like some more bread?”

Oh hell yeah. Yes I would.

“Too beautiful to eat!”

The weather is turning nasty so why not fill up with classically warming dishes?

French onion soup, (£6.50) sorry, the soupe à l’oignon came piping hot, with enough of this onion stuff in it to keep it broth-like with consistency, but fluid enough and held in a cute little bowl. But frankly I felt it was too beautiful to eat. Sweet, rich and oh so lovely.

For main, it was an obvious choice of beef bourguignon (£16.50). The beef is as tenderly braised fluff and delicately done with a surgeon’s accuracy of care. You can just tell the chef gave it everything in this. The waiter who took my order might as well have written down “Cook like this is going to be the best damn thing!”

The squash cooked into the sauce held the starch and the thickness together, with chestnut mushrooms soaking in the traditional flavouring. It’s a beautiful blend, a savory roast of a classic dish. One to be held in the olfactory memories. Indeed I did. Smelling it and reliving the forkfuls days afterwards. This mash is salted and fully bodied with cream.

In the sauce was a mix of thyme, garlic cloves, bacon and a red wine sauce which brings an earthly mix to it all. Everything on the plate just works. We’re running out of superlatives, aren’t I? It’s just bloody bursting with flavour. Eat it!

This is how the meal ends, not with a bang but with a camembert.

The waitress asks how it is. She ended up wiped away tears of joy.

And in classic French cuisine style, for dessert? Cheese tray. The cheese is delicious. Euphorically so. I had blue cheese and camembert. It came with rich black grapes, a sharp and fitting taste dynamic. The blue cheese would have given athlete’s foot a scare. Such was its glorious honk. The bread basket remained fully replenished.

A beautiful ending to a beautiful dinner.

To sum up, this might just be the best food I’ve ever eaten. Utterly flawless. I am biased at worst and evangelical at its best.

There are some meals that are too good to forget. Some are good to never have not been found. Whatever insanity the world throws, you need a place to go. Don’t forget that.

What I get from this place isn’t just a great meal. What I get from this place is a fleeting piece of fun. Amongst the lights, the quaint, amongst the sweet nothings and candid conversations you’ll find yourself smiling the rosiest, content smile. They delivered. This is food. An effortless atmosphere. Shimmiest, fleeting of happiness. A meal. A meal as it should be. The only dissent is that no one should ever have to not eat without any of these qualities. Till such a world exists? There’s Brasserie Zedel.

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