L’Escargot is your stylish auntie, a one who knows how to grow aged gracefully; who had that immature velvet halterneck from Biba behind in a day though knew when to stop wearing it. Has she surrendered to a thoroughfare of time? Hell no. She usually knows accurately that chronicle of herself to be. L’Escargot, now in a 91st year, is a same. It has been many things over a years. It has been crash on trend and it has been a survivor and now, by an strident discount of a essentials, it is a best kind of institution. we can consider of nowhere improved by that to applaud a launch of a new magazine. If you’re reading online, go collect adult a imitation edition. It’s beautiful. Think excellent aged booze in new bottles. Which L’Escargot also knows a bit about, as it happens. Oh, and it does snails, obviously. we bloody adore a snail.
L’Escargot claims to have been a initial place in England to offer them, if we don’t count all those hostelries portion a Roman invaders. The initial chronicle non-stop during a bottom of Soho’s Greek Street in 1896, as Le Bienvenue and, like Raymond Blanc, has declined to remove a French accent ever since. When it changed to a benefaction site, in 1927, it took a name of a many renouned plate and became L’Escargot Bienvenue. The owner, M Georges Gaudin, who sounds like a guy with a well-tended beard and a excellent collection of Victorian erotica, ran a snail plantation in a basement.
The snails no longer come from a basement, though they are good cared for. They are served in a shell, rather than a idle way, in a dimpled tray. Snails are all about hint and textural fun. You need a shells, fiercely baked until a garlic-smothered parsley has started to crust. It becomes a diversion of accessories. If they’re not in their shells we don’t need a spring-loaded tongs – keep your wrist steady, don’t fist once it’s in your hold or it will fly opposite a room – and where’s a fun in that?
Dig in with a small fork. Probe a crevices of a now dull bombard with your tongue. Then get to work with torn-off pieces of bread, dredging and dredging again during a garlic butter. When my half-dozen land on a table, a tray lies underneath a foaming mass of melted garlic butter, a immature of watercress. Do we eat it or wash in it? Afterwards, and by a night, we will stink. we know this while eating my snails though that doesn’t stop me.
So it’s aged school. To start they move a thimble of lobster bisque, that has such a low hint we can’t assistance though consternation either M Gaudin was a one who got a pot going behind in 1927. It’s a hint of roasted bombard and cognac and cream and fish batch reduced from a pint to a teacup full.
They do have a sharp crab salad to start, full of sliced uninformed red chilli and lime. But even amid this mortified gash during modernity there is something retro about a approach a brownish-red beef has been dirty opposite a square of toast. It’s a salad with a large crouton, and if a crouton is concerned we can be certain a kitchen has one eye on a past.
L’Escargot is a kind of place Disney animators are devising when they pull imagination French restaurants. The walls are embellished in low colours. They are gilded with art: a Beryl Cook imitation here (oh those poetic large calves); a Matisse snail cut-out there. There are chandeliers and waiters in suits and, yes, prices to recoil over. But look, Soho is full of good-value ramen joints and Sri Lankan cafés and Vietnamese griddle houses. Can’t we have one place where we can hang your tongue in a snail shell, sequence tournedos Rossini and watch your credit label bleed? For £38, it’s a sturdy, unapologetic square of work: a thumping strap beef baked middle singular as requested, thick slices of black truffle, a Madeira-veal jus that we could polish yourself with, dappled with some-more truffles. And, during a bottom, a crouton. We sequence minted peas and savoy cabbage, some-more to move a bit of colour to a list than on health grounds. The lobster bisque did for that.
Toulouse sausages and crush – pommes purée, though of march – are £16 and beef bourguignon is £18. A cassoulet “au confit de canard” is a whacking course for £19; report a distortion down afterwards. If we was being academic we would advise it didn’t utterly come opposite as a one-pot plate it should be, though as an assemblage of deeply sauced beans and lardons and, during a final moment, a leg of crisp-skinned confit steep underneath a breadcrumb crust. But it cooking right. And, anyway, there’s a bottle of Provençal rosé assisting it home, from a list that has never listened of any wine-producing nation other than France. The rosé might not be accurately of a season, though it’s my dinner, not yours. At £28 it’s also what passes for a discount around here.
There is a Grand Marnier soufflé offering during dessert, that is so right it’s most a partial of a sequence of use during a high mass. We are here to ceremony during a tabernacle of exemplary French cuisine and we unequivocally contingency finish a job. It is varnished and unapproachable and as expanded as we are commencement to feel. At a bottom it is a small loose, that is to contend not wholly baked through, though by this indicate in a dish we’re all a small lax in one approach or another. Slap in some of a boozy Grand Marnier syrup and, really, who cares?
We are now armpit low in each stately Gallic cliché, and happy to be there. Oh look, here’s a crème brûlée, since it would be inconceivable to be though one. Raise a teaspoon and shout: “Look out darlings, I’m going in.” The sugarine aspect shatters to exhibit a satin and silk of a vanilla custard below.
It is in a inlet of a mainstay like this that we are insincere to be spooky usually with a new. And there is always going to be a bit of that. But as we here during a Observer replenish ourselves, it’s value remembering that there is always a place for longevity, for joining and for class. L’Escargot has it all.
Jay’s news bites
If we wish critical aged school, conduct to Oslo Court in London’s St John’s Wood, where a 1970s never utterly ended. The tablecloths are pink, there is grilled grapefruit with brownish-red sugarine or coquille St Jacques to start, a duckling comes with salsa à l’orange, and there is a groaning ‘sweet’ trolley to finish. Three courses are £36 during lunchtime and £47 during cooking (oslocourtrestaurant.co.uk).
And here come those much-forecast heartless cold winds. The Polpo organisation has shuttered both a pub Ape Bird on London’s Cambridge Circus and a Bristol outpost (open usually for 18 months). All staff have been redeployed within a group. More worrying for staff is a closure of 20 – count them, 20 – branches of Byron Burger and 11 of pizza sequence Strada. Expect some-more of this in 2018.
I crash on about non-plate portion equipment in restaurants for being annoying, though it turns out they can also be dangerous. A Birmingham restaurant, Ibrahim’s Grill Steak House, has been fined £50,000 for portion food on wooden play that were ‘incapable’ of being cleaned.
Email Jay during firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1