Brasserie Zédel is the pinkest restaurant I have ever seen. It is pig pink, Barbie pink, icing-sugar pink and tongue pink. It is so pink that I photograph the napkin, and look at the napkin many times to remind myself that such a pink restaurant exists where it does, in a district reminiscent of cracked heads and bilious fear and tramps set alight: west Soho.
I love west Soho. East Soho upsets me, because you can buy posh whisky, smart cheese and a leather dog collar for £300, to prove you went to Soho, saw the tarts and the House of Karl Marx, and came back to Notting Hill without a spot on your conscience or, worse, stayed at the Soho Hotel, a corpse dressed in Cath Kidston chintz. Perhaps it is the horrors of Soho House and its attempt to build a country house for leftists above the Piccadilly Line, but I cannot bear it. West Soho, however, cannot shake off its misery, even with new paving stones on Sherwood Street glittering like pearls. Cross Wardour Street, wander down Brewer Street, and it stinks of pain that cannot be renovated. Its heart is ageless and broken. It is worse than Chinatown.
Zédel is under the Regent Palace Hotel, a sinister triangle which was Soho’s Grand Hotel. It was a foul and fascinating palace, opposite Dunkin’ Donuts, with windows uncleaned, it seemed, since Rudyard Kipling died. I can close my eyes and smell it still, that peculiar scent of pigeon cadaver, doughnut, urine and bleach. But that is all gone now; the hotel has been sandblasted into shininess and is more chilling than ever. And underneath, in the grandest public room the insane Edwardians could imagine, is Zédel, all smothered in a happy blanket of pink. (For some reason I keep typing oink. So I will say it is smothered in oink.) It used to be the Atlantic Bar and Grill, which was simply out of The Shining. Put evil people in a marble hall in an evil city, smother it with earth and you will get evil deeds. And angry sex. And overcooked steaks.
But things are better now, in the soft, warm hands of Chris Corbin and Jeremy King. They created the Wolseley and the Delaunay, two restaurants I will happily pay to eat in because they are stylish and democratic and I cannot imagine anything bad happening there. They have taken all the rooms under the Regent Palace, so there is the Bar Américain, a leathery cave that feels like Wallis Simpson’s knickers and is therefore genuinely sleazy (I mean sexy), and the Crazy Coqs (haha!), a jazz bar that is Bar Américain with the lights switched on. I remember these rooms from my time as a diarist. I stood under the chandelier once, near Beyoncé.
Zédel is a huge room with golden ceilings, marble pillars, velvet banquettes, gilt rails and a clock, for mortality, all out of a fairytale and this is right; the gloomy (possibly haunted?) Atlantic needed a powerful spell to break it. So what could be better than pink (oink) and refugees from Blood Brothers? It seats 220 and takes walk-ins, if they know where to look.
The menu is a walk round French classics — soup, duck, snails — and it is ridiculously cheap, at least for now; the set menu is £8.75 for two courses and £11.25 for three, so hopefully the Aberdeen Angus cows are crying. I had egg with mayonnaise in damp bows, and baby chicken with tarragon, and warm French beans and potato salad; my companion had a wonderful endive salad with toasted walnuts and roquefort, and cold salmon, again with mayonnaise bows.
The chocolate mousse came in a vast bowl that could be fairy love — wonderful. So that is Zédel, nourishing, bright and very oink, like a ballerina’s tights; we stayed three hours and paid £64. It shuts, of course, at midnight.
Brasserie Zédel, 30 Sherwood Street, London W1, tel: 020 7734 4888.