A stone’s throw from the giant LCD banks of dancing brand names that is Piccadilly Circus lies Brasserie Zédel - a marbled and mirrored, art deco-inspired restaurant that’s among the most visually-stunning in the capital. Opened just over a century ago as part of The Regent Palace Hotel, it was originally conceived as a more democratic version of The Ritz designed, to paraphrase the words used at the time, ‘to make the luxuries usually available to the very rich open to the less well-off.’
In an era of grand sea-bound travel, the decor was reminiscent of a luxury transatlantic liner; the food, atmosphere and service so authentically French that diners could be forgiven for thinking a French brasserie had been transported lock, stock and barrel from the heart of Paris to the heart of London. Today, all that still remains true.
The interiors of the downstairs Brasserie are stunning - perhaps more so than ever because of the marked contrast they offer to the blandly corporate surroundings of Piccadilly Circus. It's hard not to think that Brasserie Zédel is something from a secret Wes Anderson film - with glittering decor, a plethora of attentive staff and a monogram that appears on everything from napkins to the homebaked loaves of bread.
The atmosphere - so refined, but so buzzy and exciting too, is also a pleasing break from the rush and clatter on the streets surrounding. The food is still authentically Parisien and that initial ambition - to offer a more accessible but no less arresting and memorable alternative to The Ritz - remains in place.
At dinner with a friend recently, we worked our way through courses aplenty - delicious, distinctively gallic dishes from Bœuf Bourguignon, Poulet au Champagne, Escargots and the house crab special ‘Crabe Zédel’, to Crème Brûlée and Profiteroles. We placed our wine choice in the hands of waiter - French, of course, both the wine and the waiter - and were rewarded with something excellent.
As we filtered away from our table and out into the grand foyer - which has a real feel of 1930s Hollywood about it, so gilded and glamorous, and bathed in the sort of warm pink light that makes everybody look just that little bit more beautiful - it was as if we had been transported not just back in time but across borders too. It is hard, when stood inside Zédel, to reconcile the fact that mere metres away is the rattle and hum of modern London.
Our companion for the night en route home, we settled in at the Bar Americain, Zédel’s cocktail spot, and thought a little about what makes a restaurant truly great. Is it the atmosphere, the service, the food, the decor? Or is it something complex and impossible-to-measure, which lives in the spaces between each of those four important factors?
Whatever it is, Brasserie Zédel has it. Each of its component parts are wonderful, but there is a special something - at the risk of being cliched, a certain je ne sais quoi - which elevates it above the everyday. Take a seat yourself soon, and find out.