Arriving in London as a student some ten years ago, Soho seemed like a truly intriguing, exciting place. Sure, there were the gloomy doorways and red lights behind net-curtained windows, but Soho was somewhere that it felt like anything could happen – full of fascinating characters and nocturnal adventures. And yet, if you’ve been to Soho of late, you’ll be aware that that place has all but gone; what was once the dark heart of London has become home to rows of identikit restaurants and bars. There are, however, a few institutions too venerable to be chased out by hip ramen bars and upscale burger joints. And one of those is L’Escargot.
London’s oldest French restaurant, L’Escargot opened in Greek Street in 1927. The grand dame of Soho dining has played host to the great and the good; from royals to rock stars, and everyone in between. Falling out of favour during the Noughties, the restaurant is now staging a triumphant return under new management. Enter talented young chef Oliver Lesnick (formerly of The Connaught with Michel Bourdin and Angela Hartnett) and Brian Clivaz (the chap who masterminded the refurbishment of what’s become one of London’s hottest establishments, The Arts Club), who are overseeing L’Escargot’s return to glory.
And glorious it most certainly is. Of course, food is of primordial importance when visiting an eatery, but L’Escargot knocks your socks off long before you even get a sniff at the menu. Gilded mirrors, glittering chandeliers, ornate cornices and high ceilings, this is a dining room you want to linger in. Service is impeccable; staff is charming, attentive and knowledgeable with that rare knack of arriving at just the moment when you’re about to try and wave someone over. There’s a buzzy chatter and warm cosiness to the place – it’s one of those restaurants where you look round and realise that absolutely everyone is having a really good time.
Once seated, bien sur, we begin proceedings as one should – with a glass of chilled Champagne. Onto the main event: the menu. Amidst London’s current predilection for street cuisine and luxe junk food, dining at L’Escargot is a supremely classic affair. And that’s actually quite brilliant. Oliver Lesnick isn’t attempting to reinvent the wheel; the simplicity of beautiful, high quality fresh produce, cooked with love, care and attention is a real pleasure. Prices are fair too – and there’s even a pre-/post-theatre menu which is excellent value.
Classic starters include a selection of homemade terrines and patés, a superb lobster cocktail, alongside traditional brasserie staples such as onion soup and croque monsieur. It’s food that you know – and love. Fresh fish and seafood or perhaps beautifully cooked steak frites for mains; it’s a Greatest Hits menu, all killer and very, very little filler. Presentation is exquisite, and our waiter succeeded in recommending wines which really did match our food choices.
It would have been rude not to indulge in dessert, and here again, it’s a best-of-the-best selection. A rich tarte tatin was a symphony of soft apples basking in sweet, sticky caramel and flaky, buttery pastry, while L’Escargot’s delicate vanilla creme brulée is one of the best in town and quite possibly my Death Row dessert. Having been a resident of Paris for some time, I like to think I know a little bit when it comes to French food, and the staff at L’Escargot most certainly do. Even better, there are whispers of exciting projects (a members club, a Champagne bar…) taking shape over the further three floors of 48 Greek Street. Looks like the royals and rock stars will be back…
For more information and to book, see L’Escargot’s website, telephone +44 (0) 20 7439 7474, or email email@example.com.