The Balcon Sofitel St James, 8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y

Foie gras cottage pie? Can The Balcon take Franco-British dining to the next level?

Having returned from a week of eating rough-hewn slabs of ibérico ham and messy heaps of paella in southern Spain, taking Sunday lunch at a new brasserie in London seems a good way to ease gently back into dismal, autumnal English urban life by way of some refined dining.

The first items placed on the table – a little dish of saucisson and two baskets of bread – are more holiday fare than swish city offerings, but there's a significant difference in the surroundings. The Balcon is within the Sofitel St James, part of the French luxury-hotel group; it used to be Brasserie Roux – care of the legendary Albert – but it was a slightly soulless roll-out conceit. The chef, Vincent Menager, arrived a couple of years ago, a long-time Sofitel hand. Now he's been given sole control. And introduced some soul.

His menu blends classic French and British produce and techniques to appeal to West Enders without scaring off the trad hotel clientele. Charcuterie is from Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire and Mas le Rouget in Cantal, France; Herefordshire snails come with Mas air-dried ham while wild Devon mussels marinière arrive on Welsh rarebit. There are rotisserie dishes and slow-cooked rib-stickers, grilled meats and fish and some tarts and tartines for lighter meals, as well as the aforementioned charcuterie plates – 16 of them. The salad section is small but well-formed, although quite what steak tartare is doing there is anyone's guess.

We're directed by friendly, textbook-French staff towards the items in bold on the large-format menu; these are chef's signature dishes. No argument from me – the pike custard with King's Lynn brown shrimps, crustacean velouté and sourdough toast (£10.50) is both pretty and delicious, an unctuous, delicately flavoured confection with punchy shrimps scattered on top and a jug of rich sauce.

The other cheffy special, those snails with garlic jus and parsnip purée (£9.50), is a little too mannered for Mr M – he was hoping for bubbling, greasy little chaps still in their shells – but he can't fault the taste; and a Normandy onion soup with Roscoff onion and Aspall English cider (£7.50) is exemplary. "Meurette" poached duck egg (£7) comes in a properly rich red-wine sauce, salty and fragrant.

It's a damned good start. A shame, then, that three of the four mains seem to have been at the pass for a while. My rump of Devon rose lamb with seaweed and garlic green beans (£22.50) was requested pink but arrives brown. A "Label Anglais" rotisserie chicken with baked Charlotte potatoes and sage and onion stuffing (£19) is glossy and tasty, but a hair's breadth from dry, while pan-fried black bream with braised fennel, seaweed and beurre blanc is also a tad over (though the seaweed is actually samphire, a much more appealing accompaniment).

The star of the show, if rich brasserie food is your thing, is Mr M's Scottish beef and foie gras cottage pie with chanterelle mushrooms (£23), which must be the pinnacle of Anglo-French gastronomic marriage. A sturdy dish arrives with – can it be? – three slabs of foie gras atop the mashed potato, while dark gravy oozes out around the perimeter. It's enough to make your arteries harden just looking at it, but Mr M manfully polishes it off. I can, however, report that he requires a lengthy siesta afterwards. The rest of us feel the same way following an intense chocolate soufflé with pistachio ice-cream and a plum tarte tatin with clotted-cream sorbet (a puzzlingly backward, if delicious, concept).

As we roll out through the revolving door on to Pall Mall, I properly take in the room. It's terrifically elegant, with dark leather banquettes and flattering lighting, while two spiral staircases lead up to the champagne cellar (yes, I know) on the wooden balcony that gives the restaurant its name. There's mercifully little decoration and everything, from the drapes to the cutlery, is stealth-wealth style, which I'm very keen on.

Two weeks after opening, The Balcon is relatively quiet – which might explain the timing glitch at the pass – but I don't think it'll stay that way. An inviting interior, imaginative but comforting food and delightful staff. And if you don't want the full blowout, a charcuterie table and bar with smart snacks would make a charming West End pit stop. There's more than a hint of The Wolseley about the place, and that is a compliment indeed.


Brilliant brasseries

Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets

The Balcon Sofitel St James, 8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y, tel: 020 7968 2900. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. About £120 for two, including wine (though there is a daily set menu from £16)

La Brasserie, Chester Grosvenor Hotel

Eastgate, Chester, Cheshire, tel: 01244 324 024

This grandly fitted-out brasserie by the iconic Eastgate clock makes a lovely lunch venue in particular

The Wolseley

160 Piccadilly, London W1, tel: 020 7499 6996

Everyone who's anyone is to be found at Corbin & King's star-studded grand café by The Ritz; but it can be noisy and crowded, and the brasserie fare is competent, rather than dazzling

Riding House Café

43-51 Great Titchfield Street, London W1, tel: 020 7927 0840

A superb, snazzy interior twinned with a crowd-pleasing menu of comfort food is making a smash hit of this casual new Fitzrovia brasserie

Reviews extracted from Harden's 2012 iPhone app, £6.99, available now.

Suggested Topics
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
  • Get to the point
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

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power