Wolseley’s New Cousin Shuns Excess for Bargain Dining

Imagine a grand London restaurant, with high ceilings and beautiful Art Deco designs, where the rich and famous come to dine, or possibly just to see and be seen. Sounds like the Wolseley, doesn’t it?

There’s a new alternative, with a slight difference. Brasserie Zedel -- the latest establishment of Wolseley owners Chris Corbin and Jeremy King -- is beautiful and richly decorated, yet features some of the lowest prices in London.

Five starters cost less than 3 pounds ($4.66) and five mains are below 10 pounds. Desserts start at 2.75 pounds. The prix fixe menu is 11.25 pounds for three courses. Wine starts at 3 pounds a glass, or 16 pounds a bottle. Sparkling wine is 29 pounds. Double espresso? That will be 2.10 pounds.

This Soho space, near Piccadilly Circus, once housed the Atlantic Bar & Grill, a venue so hip the entrance was behind a velvet rope policed by bouncers. While the Atlantic was home to excess -- I was there, I’m sure I was -- Zedel is dignified.

The menu is long and seductive. The choice of 20 starters means you can just order a selection of small plates and share without even reaching the six fish and eight meat dishes. That wouldn’t be a bad idea. Simple options such as egg mayonnaise, tomato-and-shallot salad, grated celeriac with Dijon mayonnaise and duck-liver parfait are among my favorites.

Steak Hache

Not much can go wrong with those dishes in a brasserie that may be pushing through many hundreds of guests a day and where it will be a challenge to ensure consistency. Mains such as grilled baby chicken with tarragon vinaigrette (13 pounds) or slow-cooked duck leg, garlic potatoes (9.75 pounds) are simple and good enough. My favorite is steak hache, spicy onion sauce, French fries (7.50 pounds.)

Zedel is a great place for desserts, such as floating island (2.75 pounds or profiteroles with hot chocolate sauce (4.50 pounds). My favorite was a lemon sorbet with Champagne.

How do they manage such low prices? The ingredients are chosen carefully to keep down costs and a high volume of diners is necessary to offset narrow margins. That means service may be less attentive than you would like. At least it’s authentic: When I recall brasseries and bistros I’ve visited in France, service has often been a tad brusque. It’s part of the charm.

Just don’t go thinking this is Wolseley Light, or Delaunay Diffusion, another London brasserie owned by Corbin and King. It’s a different kettle of fish.

While Zedel doesn’t serve the best food in London, it does offer some of the best value. It’s a place to eat and drink with friends. If the low prices hold once the initial excitement has died down and the critics have moved on, Zedel has the potential to become a cherished part of the London dining scene.

The Bloomberg Questions

Cost? About 20-30 pounds a head, plus wine.

Sound level? Low until full: about 65 decibels.

Inside tip? There’s plenty of space for walk-ins.

Special feature? There’s a cabaret space.

Will I be back? Yes.

Date place? Yes.

Rating? ***.

Brasserie Zedel is at 20 Sherwood Street, London, W1F 7ED. Information: +44-20-7734-4888 or http://www.brasseriezedel.com/.

What the Stars Mean:
****         Incomparable food, service, ambience
***          First-class of its kind.
**           Good, reliable.
*            Fair.
(No stars)   Poor.

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70- 75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Amanda Gordon on New York scene.

To contact the writer on the story: Richard Vines in London at rvines@bloomberg.net or http://twitter.com/Richardvines.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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