Lady Barbara Judge discovers an oasis of French fancies in the revamped Les Deux Salons in London’s Covent Garden…
I am not a great fan of dining on my own, but last night my dinner guest was suddenly sick and I had an approaching deadline – so there was really no choice but to go along to Les Deux Salons solo.
As it worked out, it was a good thing I did – because it is a lovely, reasonably quiet, oasis among the crowded Covent Garden bars and pubs along the same street. It was early, so most of the other diners were on their way to the theatre, which may account for the welcome and relatively quiet dining room.
Les Deux Salons, as the name aptly describes, in fact comprises two separate, but connected, restaurants. Upstairs is an upmarket French restaurant with an enticing, serious menu. Downstairs, where I decided to eat, is a thoroughly French bistro – very reminiscent of Les Deux Magots in Paris. I tried the charcuterie board (because I like little tastes), as well as two of the mise en bouche from the upstairs menu. These were truffled cream cheese crostini, and each plate held three luscious little bites of sophisticated creamy truffle and foie gras. Could anything be a nicer way to start? These little bites were followed by the charcuterie board, which consisted of a very generous portion of Bayonne ham, homemade terrine de la campagne, confit of ham hock and a delicious chicken liver parfait, all with saucisson and little gherkins.
Along the way, I sensed a lovely garlic aroma, which turned out to be escargots – just the way I remembered them from my first visit to France. There was also coq au vin, served in a beautiful copper frying pan for one, and navarin of lamb in a proper blackened iron skillet. Each came with button mushrooms and baby pearl onions.
For me, however, the most important part of the meal is the finale, and I decided that the best place to discover dessert was to wander downstairs to the kitchen.
The charming and most accommodating manager led me to the larger immaculate basement kitchen, where the fun really began. The pastry chef was a charming young Frenchman who had started his training with Michel Rostang in Paris, and had baked with many other great names before coming to London. He was so generous when I wanted to try a bit of everything he had baked, which included fresh madeleines, white chocolate florentines, delicious opera cake and, best of all, cannelles – those lovely little soft eggy concoctions from the South of France. I recognised them from The Wolseley, and the pastry chef confessed that he used to bake them there. Talking to him, and tasting his creations, was the highlight of the evening and I would go back just to see what he creates next.
In all, this is a lovely addition to the Soho scene for those who long to be back in Paris. Les Deux Salons is open for breakfast from 7.30am on weekdays and so, being a strong believer in business breakfasts, I feel a return visit is clearly necessary.
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the chairman of the Pension Protection Fund in the UK, and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. (Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.