L’ESCARGOT; Having a ‘Snail’ of a time in Soho, London!
L’Escargot French Restaurant has been in Greek Street, Soho, since 1927.
When it first opened, its surroundings would have been very different to what they are now!
Soho! was possibly a hunting cry as the area was parkland, used by the Aristocracy for hunting.
Despite the best intentions of landowners such as the Earls of Leicester and Portland to develop the land on the grand scale of neighbouring Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Mayfair, Soho never became a fashionable area for the rich. Immigrants settled in the area, especially French Huguenots who poured in from 1688, after which the area became known as London’s French quarter. The French church in Soho Square was founded by Huguenots in the 17th century. By the mid-18th century, the aristocrats who had been living in Soho Square or Gerrard Street had moved away. Soho’s character stems partly from the ensuing neglect by rich and fashionable London, and the lack of redevelopment that characterised the neighbouring areas.
By the mid-19th century, all respectable families had moved away, and prostitutes, music halls and small theatres had moved in. In the early 20th century, foreign nationals opened cheap eating-houses, and the neighbourhood became a fashionable place to eat for intellectuals, writers and artists. From the 1930s to the early 1960s, Soho folklore states that the pubs of Soho were packed every night with drunken writers, poets and artists, many of whom never stayed sober long enough to become successful; and it was also during this period that the Soho pub landlords established themselves.
Now Soho, based in the City of Westminster, is a trendy area in the heart of Theatreland, throbbing with shops, restaurants, and crowds of people, both tourists and regular visitors.
L’Escargot is easy to find. It’s a huge building, divided up into different rooms.
I went up one staircase to visit the loo, passing rooms branching off in different directions, up and down a couple of steps, with loud laughter and talking filtering out. Then I went downstairs down another staircase without realising it!
Goodness knows what the value of the building is. It’s worth millions!
We queued up in the reception area, where our coats were taken and hung up in the wardrobe. Then we were shown to our reserved table by the window.
The room has a Dickensian feel about it. The fireplace is original and there’s a chandelier in the centre of the room, with very dim lightbulbs in it.
We couldn’t see the menu, even with our glasses on, so the waiter brought us a candle.
Obviously one of the starters is the snails.
For those of you who may have recently landed here from Planet Zog, L’Escargot is French for Snail.
Although I can eat most things, I just don’t like snails. They remind me of, well, snails! I’ve tried them a couple of times but, no, they’re not for me. But my friend happily tucked into a plate of 12 of them, extracting them from their shells with a gadget that looked like eyelash curlers.
I chose the French Onion Soup. I imagined that it would taste delicious in one of the UK’s top French restaurants. And yes, it did!
It had a gorgeous, rich caramelised flavour and it was chock-a-block with onions, with a slice of bread floating on the top.
Like a fool, I ate the lot, although I knew that I shouldn’t as it was so rich and filling. But I just couldn’t stop!
Next, my friend had the Rump Steak with marrow bone and a red wine and shallots sauce.
I chose the Plat du Jour, which was Roast Gressingham Goose.
The vegetables were served in individual dishes with lids on. They were lovely and hot, but difficult to lift up and pass to each other.
I had a huge plateful of the goose. But unfortunately I’d overdone it with the onion soup, so I could hardly do it justice!
If only I’d known what a terrible journey home I was going to have, thanks to ‘engineering works on the railway’ I’d have asked for a doggy bag!
After allowing our stomachs time to recover, my friend had a Crème Brulee, which he said was perfect, with a crunchy top and a creamy filling.
I chose a Melon Sorbet, which was refreshing for my poor, overstuffed insides, and slid down into the gaps well .
My verdict? L’Escargot is very well-established and works like clockwork.
The staff are friendly, polite and professional, and the food is traditional without being fussy.
The prices aren’t cheap, but I shiver to think of the overheads where they’re based before they even start to cook anything!
Yes, I’d recommend it to my friends if they’re on a day trip to London. It’s ‘real’ food and the flavours are excellent. And there’s no way they’ll be hungry after their meal!
L’Escargot is at 48 Greek Street,
London W1D 4EF.
Phone 020 4739 7474
Open Monday-Friday, 11am-midnight.
Sunday brunch 11am-6pm.