Les Deux Salons, 40 William IV Street, London, WC2

It's not often I look at the menu in a new restaurant and start drooling. But suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, that's what I found myself doing at Les Deux Salons. One minute I was sliding on to a dark leather banquette, taking in the discreetly glamorous room – grand Parisian brasserie by way of Mad Men – and registering the presence at a nearby table of TV's Fiona Bruce. The next, menu in hand, I was fighting the urgent need to swallow. "I'm drooling!" I squealed, at the risk of provoking one of Ms Bruce's legendary eyebrow lifts.

But get a load of this. Warm sweet onion tart, crumbled goat's cheese and figs; belly of pork petit salé, lentils and autumn vegetables; autumn salad with quince, walnuts and dolcelatte. This is the stuff a hardened restaurant-goer's dreams are made of – borrowing heavily from France but with a best-of-British sub-plot to gladden the heart of the late Jane Grigson.

The men behind Les Deux Salons, Will Smith and Anthony Demetre, have already shown a golden touch when it comes to launching great restaurants. First with Soho's Arbutus, then Mayfair's Wild Honey, they effectively rebooted the London dining scene, by stripping the frills from fine dining, keeping prices down by coaxing gutsy flavours from less favoured cuts, and democratising the wine ordering experience by making all wines available by the glass, carafe or bottle.

Les Deux Salons, their third restaurant, is bigger and more straightforwardly French in feel than its predecessors, sitting just off the dusty end of St Martin's Lane towards Charing Cross, opposite Terroirs.

Cynics might detect that it essentially offers a greatest-hits compilation of features from other well-loved London restaurants – the brasserie de luxe design from Galvin; the dining counter from J Sheekey; the regular plats du jour from the Wolseley; the Ivy's flexible menu structure, balancing retro revivals, brasserie classics and more contemporary dishes. But those semi-familiar elements are reprised with such panache, it's hard to resist.

The downstairs dining room has a distinctly masculine vibe, with its mosaic marbled floors, dark woodwork, and handsome stained-glass skylight. But there's mystery too, in the sexy little side areas, velvet-curtained nooks, and foxed mirrors reflecting pools of light. Upstairs, a smaller second salon feels more intimate.

Appropriately, in this border territory between Whitehall and Theatreland, the menu caters for both Horace and Doris, with soups and salads sitting beside brawn, andouillete de Troyes, and double veal chop from the charcoal grill. My friend Caroline and I hedged our first-course bets by ordering a couple of butch starters, plus a ladies-who-lunch salad. Snail and bacon pie arrived in a cast-iron skillet domed with perfect pastry, which yielded to reveal plump snails in a heady wine and garlic sauce. Equally indulgent were lamb sweetbreads bouchée à la reine, the pert sweetbreads folded into a mushroom-rich béchamel inside a choux-pastry case, like the world's poshest vol-au-vent.

By contrast, our third starter (OK, so Fiona Bruce didn't order a third starter, but we were working, right?) could have leapt from the pages of the Ottolenghi cookbook – a fashion plate assembly of broccoli and nutty quinoa, spiked with preserved lemon zest and jewelled with pomegranate seeds.

Both our main courses were identifiably restaurant dishes, rather than brasserie ones. Pan-fried plaice was lifted by a stuffing of shrimp and kaffir lime leaves, and partnered with salsify and trompette de la mort so sophisticated they threatened to overshadow the main event.

Also sophisticated, almost to a fault, was Caroline's saddle of rabbit, in which the meat had been stuffed with a forcemeat and rolled into caul-wrapped parcels. What seemed to be carrots revealed themselves as pumpkin gnocchi, swoonily autumnal under a rubble of crushed hazelnuts.

Weirdly, given the high quality of the more complex dishes, gratin dauphinois was waterlogged and under-seasoned. Nor were we blown away by a dessert of pain perdu which apparently recycled the contents of yesterday's bread basket. But our second dessert, îles flottantes, was ambrosial; textureless clouds of fluff, sprinkled with a dust of pink pralines, in a stand-your-spoon-in-it custard.

Including coffees, a house apéritif of prosecco with fresh pear juice (delicious), and a £10 carafe of Albarino, our bill came to £120 with service. It says a lot about the aspirations of Les Deux Salons that no wine on its shortish list costs more than £100. Smith and Demetre are not targeting the hedge funders, but regular diners who want a great meal without having to pay through the nose for it. Like the Parisian brasseries it's modelled on, Les Deux Salons is a place you could use for any occasion. I've already booked to go back for a work lunch soon. I'll probably have the slow-cooked ox cheeks with puréedmmmm – oh God, I've gone again.

Les Deux Salons, 40 William IV Street, London WC2 (020-7420 2050)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

Around £55 a head including wine and service

Tipping policy: 'Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff'

Side Orders: Brilliant brasseries


1 Princes Street, Edinburgh (0131 557 5000)

This brasserie at the Balmoral Hotel serves mains such as "osso bucco" of monkfish, with potato, fennel, saffron and rouille.

Café Anglais

8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 (020-7221 1415)

Try the pike boudin followed by French partridge with cabbage and bacon at Rowley Leigh's classic eatery.

Bordeaux Quay

Canons Way, Bristol (0117 906 5559)

This fantastic eco-brasserie serves main courses including grey mullet with potatoes, runner beans, lemon and mayonnaise.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea