When former England footballer Ashley Cole was caught sleeping with prostitutes, or sending naked photos, or some such post-modern humiliating sex-related crime, his doe-eyed wife, the nation’s then-sweetheart Cheryl Cole, walked. The tabloids were outraged with Cole’s behaviour. Red-tops opted – predictably – for the moral high ground: how could Cole possibly be unfaithful to Cheryl, our very own Angel of the North? At the time, it was rumoured that Cole had responded to the incessant hounding by saying “when you go to the Ivy every day, sometimes you just want a McDonald’s instead.”
I never thought, until this moment, that Cole and I had much in common. In fact, I still think that we have very few areas of shared interest. And while I (obviously) abhor Cole’s infidelities, in the most straightforward of senses (ie food), I know what he means. Oysters or caviar or lobster or truffles or saffron are all well and good – and boy, are they good – but one doesn’t want to plunge headfirst into such gargantuan forms of gastronomic luxury all-day, every day. Sometimes, you just want a McDonald’s. Well, not quite. In fact, very very rarely. But sometimes, you do want something that isn’t going to either bankrupt you or lull you into a food-induced coma for the foreseeable.
Of course, it isn’t fashionable to desire food that’s considered marginally less-desirable. And all too often price dictates our perceptions of quality. Fortunately, low prices do not repel the crowds at Brasserie Zedel: a fine establishment, hiding near Piccadilly Circus. To its disfavour, it’s yet another jewel in the Corbin and King crown, but there’s not much point complaining about this fact since the Corbin-King tentacles now tickle virtually every street corner in the capital. I admit defeat.
Brasserie Zedel is, if you like, the cheaper little sibling to its suave and spenny elders, the Delaunay and the Wolseley. As if to reinforce the point that the restaurant is more “of the people” than its counterparts, the dining room is absolutely vast, the colour scheme is an off-putting fleshy pink, and the acoustics are so horrific that I left genuinely concerned that I was suffering from premature deafness. You’re also underground, so for the two days of summer (which my visit coincided with), the artificial lighting feels like a let-down, but it works well for the other 363 days of the year. But who wants to listen to their companions bore on, anyway?
For here, at Zedel, it is all about the food. Nothing is more expensive than £25.75 (rib-eye steak) although you can opt for a Poulet Roti et sa Garniture for two people, at £16.75 per person. There is a beautifully French and thoroughly good £9.75 menu of carottes rapées followed by Steak Haché which instantly transports you back to France and is about an eighth of a price of an Easyjet ticket to the la metropole. The Saturday daily special is, I promise you, the best lunch in London – Lapin à la moutarde – and it is one of the world’s great tragedies that it’s only available on a Saturday. Why? Green salad with radishes (£3), confit de canard £16), tarte au citron (£4.50), ile flottante (£4.75) – the menu is more French than the concept of revolution itself.
Brasserie Zedel may be cheap, and noisy, and slightly chaotic, but the food is completely delicious every single time. The menu is still in French – a trend that is dying faster than the gentleman’s tie – and who cares if you can’t hear what your companion is saying? With food this good, you don’t need to.
Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood St, Soho, London W1F 7ED. Phone: 020 7734 4888