L’Escargot has considerable history as a London restaurant, being set up originally in 1927 in an 18th century Georgian Soho townhouse. It was a fashionable dining destination under the ownership of Nick Lander in the 1980s, and sadly declined under Marco Pierre White’s ownership from 1998 onwards. I remember a particularly grim meal there in 2007, after which I gave it a wide berth.
In March 2014 it was taken over by Brian Clivaz (founder of the Home House group and The Arts Club) and Laurence Isaacson (founder of Chez Gerard). The head chef is now Oliver Lesnik, who was previously head chef of the Cadogan hotel, where he had worked since 2008, having previously trained at The Connaught. The dining room is cosy, with lots of art-deco style mirrors, original art on the walls and lighting so subdued that in the evening I needed to use the torch feature of my iPhone just to read the menu. The particularly pretty upstairs dining room had now been converted to a private club.
The wine list was impressive in scope, with well over 200 labels, predominately (82%) French but with some intriguing wines from elsewhere too. Although there are more wins from Greece than Australia, it is not often that you see Tokaji Essencia 1908 (£700) on a wine list. The list runs in price from £14 to £750, with a median price of £52 and an average mark-up of 2.8 times the retail price, which is pretty fair by the standards of London. Example labels were 'Nivole' Moscato d'Asti 2013 at £21 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £16, Notios Red Agioritiko 2013 from Gaia Wines in Greece at £31 for a wine that costs £11 in a shop, the excellent Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 at £69 compared to a shop price of £29, and Chassagne-Montrachet René Monnier 2010 at £89 for a wine that retails at £34. There were a few relative bargains tucked away at the high end too, such as the rare Vega Sicilia Unico 1964 at £750 for a wine that will set you back £714 in a shop, should you be able to find it.
A terrine of rabbit, duck and foie gras (£12) had pleasant texture, though the depth of flavour was not what it might have been, particularly when it came to the liver (13/20). Chilli crab (£14) with pickled cucumber on toast was oddly lacking in chilli bite (12/20).
A cassoulet (£14) was rather disappointing, the beans rather firm in texture, the dish under-seasoned and the sausages used lacking flavour (11/20). Under-seasoning was also an issue with a slightly better dish, a classic beef Bourgignon (£17). The best dish of the night was a pear tart tatin, the pastry pleasant, the fruit nicely tart and not over-caramelised (14/20).
I was being taken here by a friend so did not see the bill, but if you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill might be around £70 a head. The manageress was charming but our waiter was well-meaning rather than particularly effective, though dishes arrived at more than a snail's pace. Overall, I was hoping to like the new l’Escargot rather more than I did, as the room is great and the menu full of timeless classics that appeal to me. A recurring theme was lack of flavour and under-seasoning of savoury dishes. It was generally decent enough food, but these venerable premises and glorious dining room deserve cooking that is better than merely decent.
Further reviews: 01st Mar 2007