Friday, 5 April 2013

Restaurant Review: Les Deux Salons

Les Deux Salons always seems to be good for a last-minute booking, even at relatively busy times. As a result, I've been here twice in the last few weeks, with two different groups of people. The experience (good and bad points) was fairly similar both times.

With seating both upstairs and downstairs (two rooms, you see?), the interior is reasonably large and buzzy. On both visits we got comfortable corner tables with as much space and privacy as the relatively crowded Parisian-style restaurant allows. Front-of-house staff were friendly but harassed and on my first visit we got a hint of the creaky service that was to come when we were inexplicably abandoned at the front-desk for a few minutes before being shown our table.

Image property of Ewan-M

The menu is French and meat-heavy, and the excellent wine list allows all but a handful of wines to be delivered as a 500ml carafe rather than a full-bottle. This is always a bonus, particularly if you want to properly appreciate the varied wine list by selecting something different with each course. Most of the main courses fall within the £20-30 range, although there are a couple of exceptions, and a three-course meal with wine would come to around £60-70 per head.

The food is very good indeed; on my first visit I had some stunning oysters followed by an excellent steak, brought to the table in the skillet and smothered in a shallot sauce, with decent skinny fries on the side. I was never asked how I wanted it cooked so, assuming that the chef had a preference for this particular dish, I did not specify and it was delivered suitably and beautifully rare. On my second visit three of my companions had the same steak and this time were asked how they liked it. Infact this was fairly academic since the waiter couldn't remember which was which when they arrived at the table. My point, which I am coming round to, is that the standard of the food was consistently far above the standard of the service.

The puddings were similarly superb, although marred on one visit by the fact that we waited a considerable time to be given our menus, and again to place our order. Then, despite one of my companions specifically asking for her coffee to be brought at the same time as the pudding and chasing the coffee at least once, it actually arrived some 15 minutes later. While you may join the French in their contempt of anyone who messes with the order of the universe by choosing to enjoy their pudding with a coffee, this particular bit of incompetence was not a culinary decision but simple mismanagement. I'd like to suggest that the restaurant has accurately captured the Parisian style by having far too few waiters for the number of tables, requiring what staff there are to rush madly around keeping everyone waiting. However, I'm not convinced that was the case. Yes, it was busy, but to the eye of this enthusiastic amateur the ratio of waiters to diners didn't look totally wrong, and I am sure I have seen other restaurants manage considerably better with far fewer staff.

When we finally received our coffees, we were left in peace to enjoy them for a good twenty minutes, all attempts to catch the eye of a waiter going ignored. When I finally managed to ask for the bill, we were ignored for a further twenty to thirty minutes until I finally went to the bar and asked to pay. None of this would have mattered if we had been polishing off a bottle of wine, or had been offered more coffee or after dinner drinks, but simply being ignored altogether for the best part of an hour after your meal is just infuriating. A similar wait happened on my second visit although this time, better prepared, I chased a little more aggressively and managed to pay and leave only half an hour or so after the end of our meal. On that occasion, when we arrived there was a couple on the table next to me becoming increasingly frantic in their attempts to pay and get out in time to make it to the theatre. Given the location, this is a prime spot for pre-theatre dining and that market cannot tolerate such long waits at every stage of the meal.

I probably haven't done the food or atmosphere justice: both are outstanding, and this is without doubt a great restaurant that offers excellent value given the quality and location. However, if they cannot drastically improve the service then it simply won't be a fun option to take friends to, or a practical place to go for pre- or post-theatre dining, or a business lunch.

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