What if I told you that there was a way to get as far away as possible from the current tribulations of life under covid? In Brasserie Zédel, nestled less than a minute away from Piccadilly Circus, lies a world apart from testing failures, covid, and Brexit ultimatums.
The grand Parisian café sits behind an unassuming storefront on a street corner – the entrance does not do justice to what lies beneath. After a speedy temperature check you are able to leave any anxieties of covid quite literally at the door. A kind doorman asks me where I am headed and instructs me to head down two floors for the restaurant.
I descended the plush red velvet staircase admiring the glamorous French film posters on the walls feeling as if I have entered into a different era. The warm decadent interior was a welcome change from the miserable grey London evening I had just left.
I checked my phone and had a slew of messages from B who was sitting patiently in the restaurant. I scuttled down the remainder of the stairs reminding myself to take in the view on the way out. The foyer is stylishly divided into the restaurant Brasserie Zédel and lively cocktail bar Bar Américain with a single glass chandelier hanging in the centre with marble columns in each corner standing artfully. The Art Deco décor continues as I enter into the impressive Brasserie Zédel – a huge dining hall. I spy B sitting at the very back in a booth and saunter over making my apologies. Normally, my slight tardiness offends him, but I see he had quite kept himself content with an entire basket of bread and butter. I wait for him to digest this before he greets me,” the bread is excellent,” he says smiling, a gin & tonic in hand. Starving, I try it and he is not wrong. Bread and butter is of course such a simple thing but when simple things are done well, with time, preparation and fresh ingredients then they become excellent and indeed it was; that is an ethos that runs throughout the evening, too.
The menu is astonishingly reasonably priced for a restaurant with such an elegant interior. Fittingly, it has the courses in French with helpful English translations below, shattering any remaining illusion I had that my French was proficient. I opt for half a dozen escargot to begin (didn’t need the translation for that) which are served with garlic and lashings of parsley butter. For something quite literally served in butter it doesn’t feel too rich or heavy but just delicious. It also prompted an existential question of the evening: do snails count as seafood? For the purposes of my continued unblemished record as a pescatarian and my desire to return and eat them again, the answer is very much yes. B, who took the more negative (read: objective) side of the discussion, opted for the very clearly vegetarian spinach quiche, which was light, tasty, and refreshingly not too eggy.
In true French fashion the wine list is extensive and as a usual red drinker I was pleased to see a white that I liked that doesn’t often feature on restaurant menus. I drank in my surroundings including the fantastic live band and groups of people enjoying a lovely meal. The hall is designed as such that socially distanced tables can be organised without disrupting the buzz of the evening. B, an unashamed carnivore, chose the rib-eye steak with which he says was well complimented with the tang of the béarnaise sauce and French fries. The rapidity with which he ate and his reluctance to comment until he finished speaks to its delectability. My whole lemon sole felt fresh and paired wonderfully with the subtle flavours of the nut-brown butter. Again, ostensibly simple dishes prepared with elegance truly make all the difference. Accompanied with creamed spinach and pommes frites it meant that the meal had just the right level of indulgence.
Given the calibre of the meal so far it felt wrong not to get a dessert. B was full, so we decided to share the cherry and honey fromage blanc with walnuts, which turned out to be the perfect light ending to a lovely evening.
Brasserie Zédel differs from similar high-end establishments in that there truly is an atmosphere and ambience in addition to the true high-class feel of the evening. It is a difficult balance to achieve, but one that Brasserie Zédel does with panache.
Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London, W1F 7ED, England.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4888
Located on the heart of Piccadilly, Brasserie Zédel is less than a minute’s walk from the northern entrance and exit to Piccadilly Circus Tube station on the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, just before the back entrance to Nespresso and Whole Foods on the opposite side of Sherwood Street.
The restaurant is open Monday to Friday for lunch from midday to 2:45pm (last orders) and dinner from 5:00pm to 8:45pm (last orders). Saturday from midday to 8:45pm (last orders) and Sunday from midday to 6:00pm (last orders).
Type of Restaurant: Parisian Brasserie
Price Band: Medium
Insider Tip: If you are looking for a cosy, friendly place to meet a friend over a coffee and cake, then pop into ZL Café, which is a casual pavement-level café that you have to walk through to go downstairs to the brasserie.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9.5/10
Maighna Nanu is a London based freelance journalist.
Photographs courtesy of Brasserie Zédel / Corbin & King