Les Deux Salons is the latest opening of Antony Demetre and Will Smith, who after struggling financially for some years at the now defunct Putney Bridge found a far more successful formula with Arbutus and Wild Honey. The new premises is just off the Strand at the bottom of St Martins Lane, so is well placed for the theatre crowd: a special pre-theatre menu is on offer, and indeed the restaurant opens at noon, continues with afternoon tea and starts serving dinner at 5 p.m. The old Pitcher & Piano building has been attractively decked out as a French bistro over two levels, with mosaic tiled floor, wood panelling, dark green banquettes and café chairs and lamps. This is a sizeable premises, seating a maximum of around 160 at one time, and although it had only been open less than two months when I first visited in November 2010, tables were being turned on that weekday evening. Just seven hard-pressed chefs work in the kitchen to serve this crowd of diners.
The menu had plenty of French bistro classics, such as fish soup, with a few British touches. Starters were £5.95 - £7.95, main courses £12.95 to £21.50, vegetables £3.50 and desserts £5.50. The wine list was not exclusively French and all wines are priced under £100. Examples were Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2009 listed at £25 for a wine with a retail price of around £9, Chateau Haut Batailley 2005 at £85 for a wine that retails at about £32 and Stags Leap Karia 2008 at £70 for a wine you can pick up for around £25 in the shops. We drank the excellent Frederic Mochel Pinot Gris 2007, priced at £44 for a wine that you can buy in the shops for around £16. Bread is a choice of brown slices and mini baguettes, and is apparently made from scratch. It had pleasant texture and crust (14/20).
Fish soup is a bistro classic that is actually hard to get right. So often it is watery and tasteless, bulked out with croutons and aioli to distract the diner. The key is to be generous with the fish and stock ingredients - Nico Ladenis used to make a superbly intense fish soup, but made from a stack of costly ingredients, including lobster. The version tonight succeeded, with strong flavour and careful seasoning (15/20). This was better than warm sweet onion tart, goat cheese and figs, with pine nuts and fresh salad leaves. The tart itself had decent pastry but the filling lacked flavour, though the salad leaves were nicely dressed and fresh (13/20).
Things perked up with plaice stuffed with shrimps and kaffir lime leaves. Cornish plaice was carefully pan-fried, and the kaffir lime leaves gave an enjoyable citrus hint to the fish (15/20). Cassoulet is another bistro classic that I am often disappointed by. Here the duck confit was tender, served with punchy Toulouse sausage and a casserole of tender haricot beans flavoured with bacon, all boldly seasoned (easily 14/20). Thin chips were properly salted and reasonably crips, and gratin dauphinoise was also pleasant, though for me it could have had more cheese taste and been a little thicker, while sprout tops were properly cooked (vegetables all around 14/20).
Desserts were appealing, with not an item of shrubbery in sight. Cheesecake was slightly unusual in having a baked biscut base which gave a crumbly base texture, but the filling had smooth texture and reasonable cheese taste (14/20). Lemon tart was well made, with good pastry and well balanced filling, with just enough acidity (15/20). Coffee was pleasant. Service throughout the evening was capable, our South African waiter friendly and attentive. The bill came to £74 each, with an extra glass of dessert wine in addition to the Alsace Pinot Gris. Overall I thought this was a successful meal; the dishes may not use luxury ingredients, but that is not the point: the kitchen skilfully executes bistro classics at a much higher level than most restaurants in the capital, and prices are not excessive. No wonder it was packed.