Tried & Tested

Restaurant check: Léon de Bruxelles

11 May 2012 by BusinessTraveller
BACKGROUND Open since January, Léon de Bruxelles is the first UK outpost for this European chain, which started in Brussels as Chez Léon in 1893. There are now nine Chez Léon branches in Belgium and 67 Léon de Bruxelles eateries in France. It’s situated on Cambridge Circus, at the intersection of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road, in premises formerly home to a Med Kitchen branch and, before that, an All Bar One. WHAT'S IT LIKE? A large, bright space with floor-to-ceiling windows looking on to the hubbub outside, the restaurant seats 220 with space for 16 people on its front terrace. Green and white tiled walls, gingham tablecloths and blackboards with the specials marked up create a smart café feel, while photos of the original Chez Léon and murals of Brussels, Paris and London landmarks nod to the chain’s heritage. Seating is a mixture of dining tables and chairs and black and red leather banquettes. The feel is relaxed and while the place wasn’t very busy on the Tuesday evening I dined, there was a nice buzz. THE FOOD Moules-frites and “hearty Flemish classics” are the specialities here, with 12 mussels options (£11.40-£16.90) ranging from Provençale and Ardennaise to Roquefort and Madras curry. I began, after a complimentary basket of bread, with the whitebait (£5.50), which was crunchy and plentiful and served on a bed of leaves. I followed this with the Flemish carbonnade beef (£14), an original recipe from Chez Léon in Brussels – the beef is slow-cooked in a beer, onion and carrot stew and served with French fries and salad. It was certainly hearty: no-nonsense comfort food with plenty of flavour, though I didn’t get much of a beer taste from it. It wasn’t particularly artfully presented, but then that’s not really want this chain is about. My companion had the Léon de Bruxelles mussels (£12.90), served in a white wine and crème fraiche sauce with celery and shallots, and she thought they were fresh and tasty. We finished by sharing the Gaufre Anversoise waffles (£7), served with maple syrup, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream, which was an indulgent treat. THE DRINK Not much in the way of Belgian beer on draft – Stella Artois and the chain’s own branded brew, alongside Addlestone, Beck’s Vier and Guinness – but ten are available by the bottle (£3.75-£6.80), including Vedett, Orval, Rodenbach and Westmalle. There was also a decent selection of French wine available for an eatery of this type, several of which could be bought by the glass – we shared a bottle of Cotes du Rhone Clocher Saint Michel Pierre Dorvin 2009 (£27), which was nice. THE SERVICE Very good – friendly and attentive, and I appreciated being asked if I’d like more bread or hot chips (you get unlimited frites with mussels, which is a nice touch). Still, I thought it a little odd to be asked, when I was still eating my starter, if I would like the main served in five minutes or to wait a bit longer. I asked to wait and the food was still served hot and fresh, so that was fine. VERDICT A pleasant choice for a casual lunch or dinner in a central location. OPENING HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-11pm, Fri 10am-12am, Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 12pm-10pm. CONTACT Léon de Bruxelles, 24 Cambridge Circus; tel +44 (0) 20 7836 3500; leon-de-bruxelles.co.uk Michelle Mannion
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