Ou sont let plats d’antan? Gone to Zedel, every one of them. A dream of a dream, A dream of filet de hareng, pommes a l’huile,; lapin a la moutarde, baba au rhum, of celeri remoulade; choucroute alsacciene, éclair Paris Brest, of escargots au beurre persille, blanquette de veau and peche Melba. Zedel is a dream of Parisian brasseries as they never were, bigger, grander, more theatrical, dare I say better.
Zedel is the latest restaurant confection from Jeremy King and Crhis Corbin, who have a genius for mining our tribal gastronomic memories, nostalgie de la cuisine. Looking at the Wolseley, the Delaunay and Zedel, it would seem that they’ve taken over from Oliver Peyton as the Barnum & Bailey of the London restaurant scene. But instead of Mr Peyton’s touch of vivid vulgarity, they have the gift of creating effects of theatrical good taste that seamlessly combines elements of Paris of the 1890 to 1920, Britain of 1920s and Vienna (or possibly Budapest) of 1910.
With the Brasserie Zedel it’s Paris of 1890-1920. It’s all there: the sense of scale, the massive, squared-off, marble clad pillars, with Corinthian furls at the top in glittery gold, the walls of paneling and marble, the parquet floor, the mirrors and lights like rectangular glass airships hovering below a vaulting ceiling, the banquette seats in deep red (Souvenir de Docteur Jamain?) velour , unbroken sight lines so customers can take in the full sweep of the room. Considering the place is below ground, and at the end of several corridors, the lighting is little short of miraculous in creating a sense of natural luminosity. Best of all, there is the constant sense of life, of waiters scurrying to and for, of eaters coming in and departing, of dishes being delivered and empty plates taken away, of conversations and social discourse, of people who feel at home in such a place.
I am a sucker for such places. They make me smile. They make me happy. I slip into them as I might into a warm bath. In keeping with mood, place and memory I had filet de hareng, pommes a l’huile; lapin a la moutarde, baba au rhum. I could nit pick – the odd bone cropped up in the herring; the potatoes weren’t quite waxy enough in my view; and lapin a la moutarde definitely lacked the required oomph of mustard. Very much on the plus side was the firm texture and beautifully modulated flavour of the herring; the moistness and generosity of the rabbit; the perfection of the accompanying noodles and the precise airy indulgence of the baba au rhum. And the prices, £3.75, £12.75 and £3.25 respectfully. The fact is that everything I ate was much better than when I last I visited the blessed Brasserie du Nord just outside the Gare du Nord.
There’s nothing remotely new, radical or even novel about this food, except, perhaps, for the fact that it’s in Piccadilly not Pigale. It’s comfort food of a kind, the food of remembrance. But instead of being churned out by rote in an exhausted tradition, as in France, it comes newly minted, with the freshness and energy of a culinary culture that is doing it for the first time.
I fell into conversation with two delightful Frenchmen at the next door table. What did they make, I asked, of Zedel, of this evocation of the Parisian brasserie in the heart of London.
‘Chest une merveille,” said one.
‘It’s like being back in Paris,’ said the other. ‘Only better.’
20 Sherwood Street, London W1F 7ED
020 7734 4888
NB. I’ve just noticed the following rubric at the bottom of the menu: ‘All gratuities are managed by the staff. No flash, or intrusive, photography.’ Bloody marvelous. And I’m particularly taken by the use of commas either side of ‘or intrusive’. Civilised, precise and correct.