L'Escargot, restaurant review: It is like a half-remembered dream of the perfect brasserie

The grande dame of Greek Street has been lovingly revived

This isn't so much a review as a public-service announcement. A rallying call to the dining dispossessed, the rained-on, snubbed and footsore, who have had their fill of queuing round the block for dirty burgers, or jockeying for counter space at the latest ramen joint. There is a place for you. A kinder, gentler place. A place you used to know. It's been right there, all along, just where it always was, in Soho. Its name is L'Escargot, and it's calling you home.

L'Escargot? Didn't that close years ago? Well, no. The grande dame of Greek Street, established 1927, has simply spent the past couple of decades in that state of suspended animation that seems to come with ownership by Marco Pierre White. From being the restaurant everyone flocked to in the 1980s, when clever Nick Lander made it the dining room of choice for Soho's burgeoning media scene, it has become the restaurant no one can remember when they last visited.

There's a huge fondness for the old place though, and the news that L'Escargot had been bought by a sympatico consortium and would be lovingly revived was met with a collective whoop of approval. The new owners have form in cherishing much-loved old-timers. MD Brian Clivaz has already managed to refresh another legend in his portfolio, Langan's, without damaging its essential Langan's-ness.

So far, the rebirthing of L'Escargot seems to have been similarly adept. The downstairs spaces have been buffed up, and still exude sepia-tinted comfort, like a half-remembered dream of the perfect brasserie. The walls are still lined with paintings, some of them good – Marco evidently resisted the urge to replace the art with his own Damien Hirst knock-offs, as he once did at Quo Vadis.

My guest David Shamash, the generous high bidder in The Independent's charity auction, was a frequent visitor to L'Escargot in its prime, but like me, hadn't set foot in the place this century. Given that this year's appeal raised funds to protect elephants, it seemed fitting to dine at the restaurant equivalent of an endangered species.

A new chef, Oliver Lesnik, has been in place since February, and his lengthy menu of brasserie greatest hits covers the waterfront – or le front de mer, as this Frenchified document would no doubt have it. Pretty much everything on it could have featured on L'Escargot's launch menu in 1927, from croque monsieur (£6) to lobster thermidor (£36), by way of coq au vin, côte de boeuf, and of course, snails.

After good bread, a supple knotted baguette which the urbane David identified as pain d'epi, we began with a shared dish of six escargots de Bourgogne served incandescently hot. The rest of the meal was uneven. A really good main of devilled ris de veau (the 's' is silent, as I now know from my guest), was a definite highlight. But lobster cocktail, served on the half-shell, was over-chilled, in a bordering-on-sickly Marie Rose sauce. Eglefin aux oeufs de cailles – I left David to pronounce that one – or haddock and quails' eggs baked in cheese sauce, was a comfort dish gone awry; again, all the flavours had been turned up to 11. And at £15, a vol-au-vent 'Vallée d'Auge' – a pastry case filled with some dull baby veg – was rather feeble value.

Still, it's the kind of room you want to linger in, and in my case, return to.

Fearing that my first visit was on an off-night (Lesnik was apparently off sick) I dropped by a few days later with friends, reservationless, for an impromptu supper. As Soho buzzed and burbled frantically, it felt great to seek sanctuary behind that once-familiar green door. And this time, the food was better, or maybe we ordered better, keeping it simple with coq au vin, moules marinières and steak frites.

On both nights, the crowd was sparse, more TripAdvisor than early adopters, as David pointed out, including some veterans who may well have been propping the place up since the 1980s. When business picks up, they'll need to do some staff training. Unlike Langan's, which has kept all those long-serving old waiters, the team here is young and skittish, and there's no one taking proper ownership of the room.

The new owners will iron out those glitches, I'm sure, so don't let them put you off. L'Escargot's dining rooms are as lovely as any in Soho. They need to be filled with people, and buzz, and a big, warm, welcoming presence. There aren't many of these old survivors left, and it looks like we're about to lose two more, The Gay Hussar and L'Etoile. Here's a place with history oozing out of its cornicing and memories engrained into its crackle-glazed paintwork. It's been given a new lease of life. Don't let it die.

Food ***
Ambience ****
Service ***

L'Escargot, 48 Greek Street, London W1 (020-7439 7474).

Around £40 a head for three courses, before wine and service. Menu du theatre, £19.50 for three courses, 5-7pm, 9.30pm-12am.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam