Sunday, 12 August 2012

A confusing meal courtesy of Brasserie Zedel

Parfait de foie gras
I'm generally a pretty cluey person. Well, I'm prone to episodes of imitating Dr Stupid now and then (for you Ren & Stimpy fans out there), but generally, I'm fairly switched on. What worries me is that I'm still puzzled by Brasserie Zedel. Eating food shouldn't be confusing, should it? But being served broadly mediocre food, with haphazard service in an over-the-top lush setting resulted in such perplexity that it's taken me ages to order my thoughts enough to tell a coherent story. But let's attempt to document the meal as best we can. Shall we start with the good?

The room. It is glorious in its scale and defined by the massive gilded columns. Walking down the stairs and seeing the room unfold ahead of me, I felt like I was stepping back in time to a grand hotel of the 20s or 30s. They've recreated the scene perfectly. I had visions of the movie Ratatouille - like Anton Ego being transported back to an imagined childhood eating the perfect confit. I guess I have an active imagination though.

But the visions were short lived. Despite having booked weeks ahead, we were seated next to the serving station in the far corner of the room, the five of us squeezed onto a table that was really meant for four. The room is fairly noisy, but somehow lacked atmosphere. Perhaps it was our location on the periphery - a bit like what Greece must feel like, economically speaking. Anyway, it was noisy enough for our waitress to confess that she was slightly deafened by it all meaning I had to repeat my order several times (bear with me as I start a tally with service fault #1). So lets talk about the food, because that's what we're here for aren't we?
Cuisses de grenouille
Within three minutes of ordering, our starters arrived. I wasn't really counting the time, but it was certainly less than five minutes, and more than two so I guess it was about three minutes. Our wine hadn't even been served. I don't know about you, but service that swift tends to worry me. It suggests plates of pre-prepared food just waiting to come out of the fridge. Sure, we didn't order complicated entrées, but from the get go a fairly swift pace was being set.

Of the starters, my mum had the frogs legs, which were OK, but lacked the Provençal hit of garlic and parsley of the better cuisses that I've eaten. These were served, a little disconcertingly, nuzzling a thickish pond-like green gloop which turned out to be a parsley sauce. To my mind, it made the little hoppers taste fishier than I've experienced before.

My 10 year old nephew ordered snails after acquiring a taste for them on our recent trip to Paris. He had to wait for the correct cutlery to arrive (service fault #2) before tucking into the de-shelled little morsels. Sadly he proclaimed them inferior to the ones in Paris. The one I tried lacked the heady combination of garlic and butter. These were muted flavours, when they should be bold, and weren't flavoursome enough to invite a dunk of baguette into the oily remains. That's really the only reason you order snails isn't it?

Mr B went with a thoroughly decent Parfait de Foie Gras, because if there's foie on a menu he will generally gravitate towards it. Instead of getting the salade frisée aux lardons that I ordered, I was served the salade de mâche, betterave et noi (service fault #3). I'll chalk that one up to the noise in the room and my partly deafened waitress. After some discussion, the mâche was swapped for the frisée, but perhaps I shouldn't have bothered. You see I've enjoyed this salad on a couple of occasions at Chez George in Paris, near the Place des Victoires, which I urge you all to visit. The version served at Brasserie Zedel curiously lacked any flavour apart from the tart dressing on the frisée. The lardons were oddly bland and the whole was curiously under-seasoned. The egg was nicely poached though.
Salade frisee aux lardons
As our main courses emerged, we again lacked some cutlery (service fault #4). I watched our slightly deafened waitress give a few choice words to the young guy she had delegated our table to and thought to myself that our position by the serving station wasn't that bad after all. It was dinner and a show.
Blanquette de veau
My parents were keen on the Blanquette de veau, having eaten loads of veal in Italy on holiday and because you just can't get decent veal in Australia. When we were ordering, our waitress warned us that there were only two portions of this Plat du Jour remaining. This was 7pm on Wednesday mind you, so perhaps there had been a run on the veal over the lunch service, but it seemed odd that the hundred or more diners that would follow us would not be seeing a dish of the day. Anyway, the last two portions turned out to be good - tender veal in a creamy sauce like all good blanquettes should be. My dad enjoyed the rice too, but I liked the kitsch nod to the seventies with the heart shaped pastry garnish.

I chose the confit because, much like Mr B and foie, I will without fail order confit if it's on a menu. But this confit was, disappointingly, just OK. It wasn't bad, but the skin wasn't exactly crispy, it had an oddly sweet flavour and it lacked seasoning again. The sautéed ratte potatoes served with the dish were a hit and miss affair. Mr B also ordered the confit and some of his potatoes were still raw. My nephew ordered Goujonnettes with a tartar sauce, which was basically fish and chips with whiting instead of cod.


Confit de canard
Before dessert was served, our waiter committed service fault number 5. Well, more of a service curiosity than fault, as he cleared the table and scraped up the crumbs from the flimsy paper table cloth. Sure it's a nod to the fine dining the room deserves, but given the erratic service, and the paper setting, it just seemed odd and I'm really not sure why they bothered.

For dessert, we went with the French classics, profiteroles and chocolate mousse. The profiteroles were served with a jug of warm chocolate sauce which my waiter drizzled for me. Despite the chocolate moistening, the choux was still a bit on the dry side. The mousse earned the title of "not the best" from my nephew, who being 10 and an expert on chocolate should probably be trusted on matters such as these. My parents shared the best dessert of the night though, which was a perfect pear and almond tart.
Profiteroles au chocolat chaud
We drank the Pinot Noir 2010 which, sadly, was a pretty average choice. It's slightly annoying that the wines are listed just by grape variety, and are unidentified by producer or region. This means it's a bit of a crap shoot getting something decent to drink. Not having proven themselves exactly competent, I wouldn't rely on the knowledge of the staff to steer you in the right direction when it comes to the wine list.

One other gripe. Our waitress decided to give me grief (service fault #6) about taking photos of the food, telling me it wasn't allowed. For all the bloggers or instagramers out there, the menu notes no flash or intrusive photography, so just be stealthy if you want a visual memento of your food or a snapshot of a loved one. For the record, I never use a flash in restaurants and we were sitting next to the serving station in the far corner of a vast room, so I'm guessing I could really only annoy the staff with my picture taking.
Mousse au chocolat
The whole experience at Brasserie Zedel wasn't particularly enjoyable. Things felt rushed, lacked warmth because of the weak service and I think missed the heart of what good French brasserie cooking should be about. No flavours stood out. Instead they were as muted as the lighting in the basement setting. Sure it's cheap, but I think it's false economy spending money to eat average food. Frankly, I'd prefer to cook at home. I think the low prices necessitate high volumes and ultimately move Zedel into the realms of catering rather than cooking. I actually wish they charged more than the current cafe-level pricing and invested in better and more knowledgeable service and more consistent dishes. The fantastic room deserves to be a destination with food to match.
Pear and almond tart
I was going to suggest that Brasserie Zedel is perhaps best for a drink to take in the lovely room, but a friend who visited on the weekend said the waiter poured champagne over a guest at the adjacent table. Perhaps it's just best avoided altogether and left to the tourists. I don't know about you, but I don't mind hopping on the Eurostar to get my fill of classic French cooking as often as possible, instead of the Bakerloo line to Picadilly Circus.

Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon Square Meal

2 comments:

  1. Doesn't really sound as though it has much to redeem it. The odd successful dish isn't really enough, is it? Best to avoid, I think...?

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    1. Well I won't be going back and I've heard mixed reviews from others too. It's cheap enough to go once for the room and maybe order something we didn't!

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