One of the most common assumptions about restaurant bloggers is that we'd all really like to be professional restaurant critics, and some, I don't doubt, would. I wouldn't, because I'd be crap at it; I don't have a critic's detachment, and it goes against my nature to actively look for the bad as well as the good. In blogging as in life, it is simply my nature that I always look for the positive. Be it people, situations, art, books or, in the present context, restaurants, I live by the ever-hopeful premise that in everything and everyone there is something inherently good; even Hitler loved his dog.
You'll appreciate then how hard it is for me that I really can't think of a single good word to say about Les Deux Salons, a sprawling all-day brasserie located just off the Strand. On paper it should be so good; owners Will Smith and Anthony Demetre are the chaps behind Michelin-starred Arbutus in Soho and Wild Honey in Mayfair, so it's certainly got pedigree. But based on my recent experience, for afternoon tea with fabulous fashion blogger Michael Ford, Les Deux Salons may prove to be the mutt of the litter.
Anyone who's been to Dean Street Townhouse - as I have just a couple of (dozen) times - will recognise the sort of dark wood, dark colours, brass fittings look that Les Deux Salons has gone for, both having been designed by the increasingly ubiquitous Martin Brudnizki. However, whereas from day one the Townhouse looked worn-in and welcoming, the room here - or the room we were in; there are of course deux - just looks like an off-the-shelf, generic brasserie, the paint too glossy, the 'aged' mirrors obviously brand new. It doesn't feel like any love's gone into the interior, nor does there seem to be much attention paid to what goes on within it; I noticed several wobbling tables, one of our teacups was stained and the dirty cloths on adjacent tables were allowed to remain in situ and in sight for far too long.
By far the worst offence however was the meal itself. It might seem unfair to judge a restaurant on something as incidental as afternoon tea rather than its a la carte offering, but my feeling is that if a restaurant is going to operate all day, then it should maintain its standards all day. Michael and I chose the Champagne Afternoon Tea at £25, consisting (as one would expect) of tea, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, a choice of cakes and a glass of Champagne. I say Champagne; what we were brought was certainly a sparkling wine, and quite possibly a demi-sec Champagne, but tasted suspiciously like Prosecco. Without it we would have paid £7.50 less, but even then I don't think we would have felt that we'd had value for money.
The finger sandwiches, of which there were half a dozen each, were the sorriest, dullest assortment I've ever seen. Michael's vegetarian selection was entirely cheese - the same cheese at that - while mine was barely more varied; so-so salmon, processed ham, all in very ordinary, very dry sliced bread. Neither of us finished our measly six fingers despite Michael's having not eaten that day and my famously prodigious appetite. There was no sign of say, egg and cress, or cucumber, the kind of light, tasty fillings one expects, and usually gets, at afternoon tea.
Our scones were, in fairness, pretty good - that really is about the most enthusiasm I can muster - but the cakes were dreadful. Chocolate cake, listed on the menu as 'moist', was so dense that the first - and last - forkful stuck in my throat. Quatre quarts, described uninspiringly by our waiter as 'like a dry cake', was like a dry cake. We didn't have the appetite or interest to try the carrot cake; for all I know it could have been the most amazing feat of bakery since Monsieur Carême invented the soufflé, but I doubt it. Our teas, from an unexciting but OK selection, were fine.
Service was...well service was alright, but not great. Our waiter - or at least, the waiter who we saw the most of - was efficient enough but lacked warmth, and seemed to almost resent any questions or interaction over and above the bare minimum (Michael's request for vegetarian sandwiches for example was greeted with a look of such incredulity that a third-party observer might have thought we'd asked him to find us transport to the sun). When another waiter came to clear our table and I politely explained why more than half of our food remained untouched - basically because it was dry, heavy stodge - he did thank me and say that he would 'tell the kitchen' but this didn't translate into any reduction on the bill which, with 12.5% service, came in at a hefty £28 each for mediocre food, average tea and ordinary possibly-not-even Champagne. The Woleseley it most certainly ain't.
All that aside, I did greatly enjoy the company; fortunately Michael was sufficiently laid back as to be able to laugh off the dreadfulness of it all and we enjoyed our couple of hours gossiping. If you're at all interested in fashion, or simply enjoy good writing and photography, then you could do a lot worse than subscribe to Michael's fabulous blog, Anastasia & Duck. But that, I'm afraid, is the only positive thing I can find to say about my experience of Les Deux Salons.
Les Deux Salons, 40-42 William IV Street, London WC2N 4DD Tel: 020 7420 2050 http://www.lesdeuxsalons.co.uk/