Brasserie Roux, London

Richard Johnson is delighted to find traditional French fare at London's new Brasserie Roux - and standards of service that are more American than Gallic
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Paris used to be a city that took its time; somewhere that celebrated the two-hour lunch, and regarded le sandwich as a rude impostor. But all that has changed. Now everything is très speed. Which means that you have to eat, drink espresso and smoke a filterless cigarette in less than 45 minutes. So I decided to opt for dinner instead of lunch at London's new Brasserie Roux – I didn't want to rush.

Paris used to be a city that took its time; somewhere that celebrated the two-hour lunch, and regarded le sandwich as a rude impostor. But all that has changed. Now everything is très speed. Which means that you have to eat, drink espresso and smoke a filterless cigarette in less than 45 minutes. So I decided to opt for dinner instead of lunch at London's new Brasserie Roux – I didn't want to rush.

That's because I like brasseries. Whenever I've noticed a person drinking alone in a brasserie their friends soon arrive, and cheeks are kissed. I think they're better for socialising than bistros or cafés – the kind of places where a couple might stand up and waltz, and intellectuals come to eat when there's nothing on the telly. So I was looking forward to Brasserie Roux.

The 100-seat restaurant is located in a tall, buttercup-yellow space – a former banking hall off Haymarket. And it's oddly beautiful. The weird dimensions are exaggerated by five-metre windows dressed with yellow and white blinds. Even the lampshades are four metres across, and the pot-plants are the size of trees. The end result is like appearing in Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.

The menu was drawn straight from the French brasserie hymnal, and done just about as well as it can be done. Which is exactly what Albert Roux was trying for. He wanted to go back to the source. But we were spared a menu written exclusively in French. Which was a relief. At first glance it seemed just the right mix of old and new France. And not too "international". I do like to encourage food that's resolutely one thing or the other.

I had come wanting onion soup. In the old market section of Les Halles, described by Emile Zola as the "belly of Paris", where the restaurants used to open in the early morning to feed les vicieux (the butchers, fishmongers and porters), onion soup was known for its restorative powers. It hadn't made the menu at Brasserie Roux. But the rewarding depth of the soupe de poissons did the job nearly as well.

My rib eye of beef with mash was, indeed, sublime, but I was still a bit disappointed I couldn't have a steak frites. And however you look at it, tarragon sauce just ain't Roquefort sauce. I shouldn't be eating sauces anyway. I'm always reminded of that scene in Woody Allen's Love and Death when Allen, as Private Grushenko, unwilling hero of the Napoleonic wars, asks his commander what the Russians will win if they defeat the French. "What do we win?" says the sergeant. "Imagine your loved ones conquered by Napoleon and forced to live under French rule! Do you want them to eat all that rich food and those heavy sauces?"

The accompanying wine was far too slow to arrive. I had it all planned. Half a bottle of white with the soupe de poissons. Then half a bottle of red with the steak. Well, your man messed all that up. And, please tell me, why can restaurants never provide me with a jug of iced water? No, two glasses won't do, thank you very much. Forget your profit margins on mineral water, and do right by your customer, monsieur!

Regardless of Cool Hand Luke, where Paul Newman bet that he could eat 50 in an hour, I was delighted to see an entire section of the menu devoted to oeufs. As a young man, the one appeal of a particular restaurant in Marlow Bottom was the gammon served with as many eggs as you could eat. I never tried more than four. Luke's face when he finished – pale and sweaty – had been warning enough.

Incidentally, if you're wondering whether a person could actually eat 50 eggs, a doctor friend of mine says it's unlikely. It's just Hollywood science. Besides your stomach being too small, you would run out of saliva, and produce a terrifying amount of gas. There are better ways to make friends. These days Cool Hand Luke is probably concerned about his cholesterol being too high, and ordering a salade instead.

I found a sugary leaf of basil in my ice-cream. Neris thought it was a deep-fried courgette. I laughed, but don't know why. Both are as ridiculous as each other. And the chocolate ice-cream was a little too grown-up for my tastes. Shamed as I am by the land of my fathers, I do still like the comforting fattiness of Dairy Milk. Is there an education programme I can join? Or was I just born this way?

This place really is perfect for the pre- and post-theatre crowd. Just don't go expecting chequered tablecloths and accordion music. At Brasserie Roux you will get the intellectual ironies of Air and Daft Punk. And the standards of service are, mercifully, less French than American. A brasserie is best when it's mobbed and noisy – and that's exactly what this will be within a few months.

My advice is to order coffee, which comes with nougat, and take it through to the Rose Lounge. Whether it's the rug of fuchsia, the potpourri, or the magnificent display of pink roses, there's no room in the world so utterly guaranteed to feminise a man. And that is a surprisingly nice feeling. But be warned – the harpist plays in the afternoon. And that could be too much for anyone but the most reconstructed.

Brasserie Roux, 8 Pall Mall, London SW1 (020-7968 2900). You can e-mail Richard Johnson at eatwithrichardjohnson@yahoo.co.uk

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