Nothing quite prepares you for Brasserie Zédel. The unassuming street-level café is recognisably brasserie-like. It has a smart tiled floor, large panes of glass, dark round tables serviced by waiters in de rigueur waiter attire. There are clusters of small framed photos, enamel signs and Art Deco posters. Is this Brasserie Zédel? Not quite: it’s a teaser… just window dressing. To find the real Zédel, you must join the steady stream of customers plying the highly decorated gangways, traverse past more framed ephemera, strut down several flights of stairs (a dazzling display of gaudy carpet patterns, shiny metal and runway lights), round and round and further down until you’re cast out into a theatrical foyer, the pivotal heart of the Zédel emporium. But which way to go? Like a fairground attraction there optional experiences. The doors to the right lead to Live at Zédel and the Crazy Croqs cabaret venue, the heavy doors beyond lead to the discrete Bar Américain, and through the far set of open doors is the grand and unbelievably spacious food hall: the Brasserie Zédel, buzzing with hundreds of happy diners. We wait only a moment before being shown to our table. It’s an impressive start.
Zédel’s has ‘nailed’ its concept. It’s a restaurant inspired by the grandeur and splendour of the Belle Époque, offering a discerning ‘bourgeois’ dining experience in luxurious Art Deco surroundings, complete with an authentic brasserie menu. But here’s the rub – all this comes with reasonable prices AND some prices so low they’ll make you wince with disbelief. What’s the catch? Volume. Zédel need thousands of covers to make money. It’s a bold ambition – but one that seems to be working.
The scale and opulence of the interior architecture is staggering; all gilded marble, glass and mirrors. We gawp at our surrounding with bewilderment and wonder if we’ve been transported to a Parisian gastro-palace, or perhaps a 1930’s luxury liner. Even more perplexing is knowing we are deep underground, but sitting under impossibly high ceilings, with light behind windows so convincingly daylight. The fabrics, graphics and furniture are exaggerated for stylish effect, yet restrained enough to contribute to the sophistication. (Our table is smartly dressed in linen just the right shade of pink; somewhere between salmon and light rose.)
We did not explore the full reaches of the menu, sticking mainly with the excellent value set-lunch. Many people have commented that the highlight of Zédel’s menu is the steak haché. But for me the star of the show is the bread. It is so good I wonder if the whole operation might flounder if their bread was downgraded. It’s a firm and open-textured, crusty sourdough, beautifully moist with just a hint of chewiness. It’s even better with the butter supplied in neat little pots. We had several basketfuls. Apart from the bread the rest of the food was delicious and enjoyable. The service was attentive and personal.
The clever sleight of hand here is that Zédel’s generates its own goodwill. It’s an enjoyable, happy place to be. Cynics might criticise the pack-them-in, pack-them-out business model, but this actually works in the Zédel’s favour – it democratises the experience. High spenders sit next to young families, couples celebrating over champagne are quite comfortable sitting next to tourists. I can’t imagine anybody who would not want to come here for any kind of occasion. Zédel knows its audience well: anybody and everybody.
Long may Zédel succeed, it’s a wonderful environment to eat with family and friends.