While hundreds of people pass through the the entrance of Corbin and King’s ‘grand Parisian brasserie transported to the heart of London, serving traditional food in a historic Beaux Arts interior’ every single day, for a while I wondered if I would ever be one of them.
But, after three or four aborted attempts to visit and a cancelled reservation, the Ewing and I finally made it - minus Stealth, who was ‘not leaving the house under any circumstances’ - merely a year and a half a year after they first opened.
Inside is big and bold, with an interior that reminded me of a meal we had enjoyed on honeymoon at the classic Parisian bistro, Chartier, mixed with the glitz and glamour of the bastard son of the Moulin Rouge and Jay Gatsby’s house on West Egg.
While feeling rather weary and lacklustre from a weekend of Christmas celebrations, Zedel proved to be the perfect tonic to revive some of the festive cheer that was already waning. After descending down the stairs from the modest looking street level café you are greeted with a glowing array of marble and brass, with separate doors for the Crazy Coqs cabaret, Bar American and the brasserie itself; the entrance to the latter guarded by a huge Christmas tree and a mural of interlinked union flags and the Tricolour above the door.
The room is vast, but despite my, uncharacteristically unplanned, assertions that they’d have loads of free tables, the inn was full at 10 to seven on a Monday evening. Not bad going, although they are in the heart of Theatreland making it the perfect stop for a quick prixe fix before a show.
Luckily they had a couple of seats at the bar, which, I think, turned out to be some of the best in the house. Not only did it feel rather glam sitting by the mirrored display of pastis, sipping a glass cremant and an expertly made sidecar, but we also got to see the libations being prepared for the rest of the room, as well as impeccable service that saw our glasses were always full and our questions quickly answered.
After our aperitif, I moved on to a crisp celeriac remoulade, punchy with mustard and rich with mayonnaise; a well-judged bistro staple. The Ewing partook of the pumpkin soup, topped with pumpkin seeds and a swirl of butter-thick cream, priced at a, frankly rather incredible, £2.25. While some prices have crept up slightly since opening, this must remain one of the best bargains in the Big Smoke.
At prices like these it would seem rather churlish to complain about anything, I guess it would cost as much to buy a tin from the supermarket and heat it yourself, but I can honestly say it was pretty faultless bowl of potage to sooth of a cold winter’s night. The crispy basket of baguette and good French butter, presented as we sat down, went along side nicely.
Our main courses - a steak hache, cooked rare with a pepper sauce and frites for me and trout almondine, served on the bone with a brown butter sauce and a side of carrots Vichy for the Ewing – were equally impeccable. Again, at £8.75 for the steak hache and £10.95 for the fish one might have found it hard to quibble, but this was simple, quality grub that straddles the line between comforting and fancy.
Pudding may have defeated the Ewing, but there was no way I was passing on their île flottante, a pudding that should probably have an Instagram page of its own. It didn’t disappoint, the delicately poached meringue set sail on a sea of superlative crème anglaise and finished with a swirl of caramel and some crushed pink praline; yours for £3.95.
The Ewing kept her energy levels up with the café gourmand, a cafetiere of coffee of a spoon-upstanding strength and two little petit fours, in this case a bright pistachio sponge and nutty pistachio friand.
Like the famed London buses that rumble away overhead, our second visit followed quickly on the heels of the first. Sad that Stealth had missed out on the fun, I booked us in for an early dinner on New Year’s Eve, to provide both style and ballast for the long night of partying ahead (there was also a late sitting, complete with live cabaret and cancan dancers at midnight for a £20 cover charge).
Kir royals and French martinis started the night off with a bit of fizz and sparkle, although Stealth was 'practising' drinking gin again - a long and rather convoluted story - and stuck with a G&T.
The Ewing and I both chose onglet - served with a bordelaise sauce rich with wine and sweet onions - cooked to a blushing saignant and accompanied by a cup of crisp fries and a portion of their great celariac remoulade.
For just shy of 14 quid, expectations may have been tempered, but this was a good steak; beefy and with a decent amount of chew without turning, as Rowley Leigh memorably described badly cooked onglet in No Place Like Home, into sissal carpet.
Stealth's steak tartare originally was served sans ouef, but they wre more than happy to provide a fresh yolk for the top, and some Tabasco, when asked. Decent, but the meat had been chopped a little too fine for my taste and the seasoning was a touch underpowered. At £16.95, I'd stick with the hache or onglet if you are seeking a meaty fix.
Stealth, diappointingly, bailed out when it came to pudding, but there was no way I was going to see out 2013 without a full pay load of calories. Profiteroles, three puffy, cream-stuffed choux orbs, drenched in hot chocolate sauce table-side, while not being quite as good a my mother's efforts, were very fine and a suitably celebratory ending to the meal.
The Ewing, while simultaneously complaining she couldn't manage another morsel, took down the whole of her creme brulee - served a a properly shallow dish to maximise the caramelised sugar crunch - was eaten without a murmur of complaint (and before she could offer her companions a spoonful to sample).
As a testament to its popularity, a book of Zedel matches - purloined to perform magic tricks and then left on the table at Stealth's during the New Year revelry - had every guest, bar one (the native Frenchie who had spent Christmas eating gloriously stinking goat's cheese in Tours, and the only one not yet to visit), commenting on what a great place it was. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, indeed.