Food

L’Escargot is Soho as Soho sees itself

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

L’Escargot, or the Snail, is a famous restaurant on Greek Street, Soho, opposite the old Establishment club; the oldest French restaurant in London, they say (1927), and who am I to argue? It is the type of restaurant that non-Londoners have heard of and used to visit. They passed photographs of Larry Olivier and Mick Jagger staring glumly at them as they took off their overcoats in the hallway for a pre- or post-theatre supper; despite this, or maybe because of it, the Snail fell into a long and sad decline. Its green and gold rooms embraced silence. The waiters snarled; the snails wilted. They had been there too long. They were big in the 1980s, and who recovers from that?

Now the Snail is rebooted, as Hollywood likes to say, moronically, with new decor, a new chef called Oliver Lesnik, and a strange private members’ club above. This is joy sitting on dirt, for Soho can never transcend its filth and its essential sadness; as we arrive at 5 p.m., a lunch party is swaying out into the street, with careful eyes. Drunks are so very careful. I suppose they do not want to fall.

French Restaurant
L’Escargot, 1957 Photo: Getty


First, the house. This is a fine old Soho mansion, once the house of a Duke of Portland, with a marvellously opulent doorway, so opulent it needs a feather, breasts and regrets; here, the doorway is destination enough. (It bears a proud and tiny snail.) I demand a tour, and learn that the upper rooms, previously secretive, have been opened up. They are large and sequential and brightly coloured — blue, red, yellow. It is all slightly Masque of the Red Death, which is probably my favourite film about interior decoration in time of plague.

This does not mean I do not like the Snail. It is Soho as Soho sees itself; Soho choking on its own myth in every shade of CBeebies. How it will compete with hateful, subtle, profitable Soho House, I do not know. It seeks the custom of Vincent Price and Joan Collins. Of babies and cardinals. Of silent drunks. Even if it is currently empty, apart from four Americans, who are probably off to Miss Saigon next door because some races are never sated. They need musical death; their own crimes in song. The dining room is likewise spirited, tacky and insane. It revels in its tastelessness. It has Restaurant Dysmorphic Disorder; it does not know what it looks like. There is a too-large chandelier, a vast mirror, the world’s most hideous rug — it looks like earth, which is surely the antithesis of rug, or anti-rug? — and walls painted the colour of dried blood. In the back room, there is a false wall made of pot plants, like a mad Jurassic Park. Pot plants? In a dainty Georgian house? What madman did this? The decor is countered by a waiter of peculiar sweetness and style. He is in pale brown tweed and tidy facial hair. He does not sweat.

The food, thankfully, is excellent; with a poor chef the room alone would be inedible. We have caesar salad, quiche lorraine, and macaroni cheese, which is a mad dish to order at 5 p.m. in July but, hey, it’s Soho. Take the drugs! Suck them down! Be wary! A then eats an orange cassoulet — ‘very nice’, he says, but he is paid by the word — and dauphinoise potatoes. I eat a summer risotto, which is slightly overseasoned. Nothing will induce me to eat a snail, even in the house of snails. So don’t ask; blame it on casual racism. We are too full for pudding; full of carbs, pot plants and mirrors. I like this restaurant; it is confident in own vulgarity; it chugs onwards to its future. Spiritually it is the sister restaurant to the Spearmint Rhino lap-dancing club on Tottenham Court Road. And what is wrong with that?

L’Escargot, Greek Street, London W1D 4EF; tel: 020 7439 7474.

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Show comments
  • El Wisty

    AA Gill you are not, madam.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh come on she’s rather good AA Gill is somewhat stuffy.
      Reminds me that I have been to such places before
      Quite dark and with atmospheric walls decorated with black
      and white pictures. People used to like and sit where Cary Grant or ‘ ole blue eyes’ sat. Not sure if I’ve been to this place
      before but it sounds familiar especially with the mention of
      Vincent Price and nursery food..or home cooking as its also
      Called.

      • Kitty MLB

        Clearly I’ve a memory like a sieve.. just remember a trip to London a
        few years back to see a show and we had a lovely pre- theatre meal there. The crab risotto was delicious and ambience was superb.
        Loved the dark wall colouring too.

  • Vincent Price died in 1993. Perhaps that’s your point.

    • girondas2

      Hi -just hi.
      I’m “awol” at the moment but I’m sure your right whatever you’re talking about.

      • Hi, hi. I’m having a nice rosé. Cheers!

        • girondas2

          Good for you!

      • P. S. That question you had the other day. The answer is Freedom. ; )

        • girondas2

          has Freedom ever spoken to me?

          • Kitty MLB

            Oh, I hope F, doesn’t mind me saying but she’s spoken to the Speccie columnist James Delingpole who wrote at length about you’re never too old but the poor chap thinks he is. She
            got to him before you did- everyone just one step ahead.
            Are you on a code breaking course, by any chance.. you’ll be
            a while if that’s the case.

        • Kitty MLB

          S, this is hugely awkward.. I have just had to explain to the
          master code breaker above who the answer to the riddle he
          didn’t recognise was ( from another thread)
          But I cannot rub my hands together with glee because my
          riddle creating was so bad that even you didn’t recognise my
          description . I shall give up I think.. I’ll never make a female
          James Bond.. I really wouldn’t 🙂

          • Not at all, Kitty. My proficiency with riddles stops at ‘what’s black and white and read all over?’.

      • Kitty MLB

        “Awol” now that’s just not the best start to a new job..
        running away.

        • girondas2

          I now have the anser to your riddle.
          When neccessary I do cheat. Well it’s best you know now Kitty.

          • Kitty MLB

            Your wrong! It was Fenton- the boxer dog in the picture,
            not very good even with the cheating are you? I wonder if
            you’d spot the sensible Isabella- a riddle within an enigma. She’s not the vociferous type and has travelled to Vienna just
            to dance the waltz only once.
            Only joking…She’d hate to be so easily discovered..so best
            to leave it I think.
            You just enjoy going “Awol” 🙂

          • girondas2

            I admit to being confused.
            I’m me. Now who are the rest of you?

          • Kitty MLB

            I love doing what is the link below. And when first arriving here, and a few months back have done so here in The Spectator grand halls ( metaphorically speaking) quite unrecognised with my actual name above, instead of the nickname.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4J0MKsG_is

          • Kitty MLB

            ” I’m me” Yes indeed, the man that’s worn many different cloaks himself, as I have noticed since posting here. And
            one in particular that reminded me of Elgar.

          • girondas2

            Really?
            What cloaks have i worn?
            I’m pretty transparent I think.
            Reminding you of Elgar is a bit of a plus though

          • Kitty MLB

            I see not only are you bad with riddles but your also not good
            with metaphors( cloak+ disappear=change). I have only been
            here for 5 months ( it seems like forever) no idea what pseudonyms people and you ( irritating man) used BIA,Elgar
            was a clue. When I first arrived I exchanged humorous posts
            with Fergus and a man whose name was like yours and being a classical music nerd his name was also a composition of Elgar: To Dream of G….t.us ( I could send a link). You don’t have the foggiest of ideas of what I am going
            on about…Oh I give up… going off to make a G&T and that’s
            all your fault.

          • girondas2

            Ah yes – I am, or was, Gerontius. I quite forgot that I changed my identity ( more than once).
            Surely you recognised me Kitty?

          • Kitty MLB

            Oh I forgot to say ,yes I did recognise you instantly.But I’ve always admired the cool
            dismissive way of French woman rather then the Italian way. And as a well travelled composition of Elgar you’d get that…well
            maybe..

          • Kitty MLB

            O about the soft spots you mentioned, I bath in gallons of starch every day so it stops them.But I must tell you about Rod liddle,
            A while ago he noticed that i found you trying to
            charm some woman highly amusing , and told
            me off saying: that’s how you can wreck a man’s
            self-esteem. At that point I burst out laughing(Yours??)

            I then honestly spilt the cup of coffee I were
            drinking all over the keyboard..tried to dry it out
            but it needed replacing, the sugar in the coffee
            I presume.I use the Tablet now…less accidents!

          • girondas2

            Trying to charm?
            me?

            I don’t remember that – point me towards it

          • Kitty MLB

            I can’t and won’t anyway it was all rather embarrassing and with your previous unnumbered identity that was being spoken
            about. But yes I know your not like that now
            but you could charm then and were doing it
            often …okay, I shouldn’t have admitted to you
            that I believe you can charm…but you’re a nice
            man, anyway I’m safe. Might I add someone
            else butted in and I defended you..
            O I think I’ve just been letting my tongue run
            away with itself and digging myself into
            a hole.You are well-behaved with this identity
            and that’s all that matters..I’m off bye.

          • girondas2

            Goodnight sweet lady

          • Kitty MLB

            Goodnight.

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