French fancy: L’Escargot London restaurant review
Soho’s grande dame of Gallic cuisine continues to shine
Immediately recognisable to London diners-about-town by its neon sign, Greek Street bistrot L’Escargot is a true Soho institution.
Serving classic French fare to hungry Londoners since 1927, the restaurant claims the honour of being the first establishment in England to serve snails.
Yet despite its venerable status and a clientele which has included the likes of Coco Chanel, John Gielgud and Princess Diana, there is nothing stiff or stuffy about L’Escargot.
The decor may lean heavy on opulence - bas reliefs, antique furniture, plush red upholstery and a crystal chandelier - but the atmosphere is relaxed, the fin-de-siecle ostentation pierced by irreverent artwork spanning from Matisse to Beryl Cook.
A convivial hum of chatter arises from a varied clientele which runs the gauntlet from the suit-and-tie set to tourists in padded jackets.
To start, I order the lobster bisque and, upon an enthusiastic recommendation from our warm and knowledgeable waitress, a glass of Sancerre sauvignon blanc.
The bisque arrives rich, thick and so unrepentantly pungent that the Sancerre practically acts as a life raft, it's crisp tang cutting through the intensely savoury smack of fish stock.
About two-thirds of the way in, I become dimly aware that my hunger is already dangerously sated, but it's no use - the heart wants what it wants, and soon the bowl is empty.
My companion orders the French onion soup, a classic which seems impossible to bypass given L'Escargot’s pedigree as Soho’s grande dame of Gallic gastronomy.
The soup itself - an unctuously moreish blend of savoury and sweet - almost plays second fiddle to the enormous hunk of cheese which takes up most of the dish. The cheese proves too much - defeat is declared long before the bottom of the bowl hoves into view.
My companion’s main - half a lobster, served with minted peas and pommes frites - is ocean-fresh and expertly garnished, although the amount of meat within seems slightly miserly in comparison with L’Escargot’s general trend towards hearty portions.
Beef bourguignon is a more resounding success. A robustly flavoursome sauce pools around impossibly tender beef, slivers of carrot, mushrooms and fatty chunks of pork.
Rather than a predictable heavy red, our waitress recommended a medium-bodied, fruity Fleurie beaujolais to accompany the meal, which proves an unexpected delight.
After such hearty fare, a trio of sorbets - raspberry, mango and lemon - act as a refreshing manna in a wilderness of butter and cream.
Meanwhile, a Grand Marnier souffle - served piping hot and arriving with a strong bouquet of freshly beaten egg - is so melt-in-the-mouth that you find yourself not so much eating it as chasing it.
Coffee is offered to close out the meal, but after so much indulgence a lie-down seems an even more tempting proposition.
L’Escargot is in no danger of losing its reputation as London’s well-upholstered custodian of the best of Gallic cuisine - although even the most indulgent epicures are advised to go in on an empty stomach.
L’Escargot, 48 Greek St, W1D 4EF; lescargot.co.uk