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March 2, 2024updated 05 Mar 2024 2:51pm

L’Escargot: this Soho institution remains one of London’s finest French restaurants

L’Escargot has an easy, old-fashioned charm, encapsulating the comfort of a traditional Mayfair restaurant with a frisson of Soho cool

By Suzanne Elliott

Blending the spirit of old Soho with traditional French cuisine, L’Escargot is a London institution. Claiming to be the capital’s first French restaurant, it has been a favourite of princesses (Diana and Margaret were fans), French fashion royalty (Coco Chanel would swing by when in town), and showbiz stars such as Elton John and Shirley Bassey, throughout its nearly 100 years on Greek Street. 

[See also: Jeremy King is back to reclaim his crown]

Location 

Housed in an 18th-century Georgian townhouse, a former home of the Duke of Portland, on Greek Street, among the labyrinth of Soho, just off Old Compton Street. Handy for theatreland, Regent’s Street and the neighbourhood’s increasingly high-end bars.

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Outside of L'Escargot in London's Soho
L’Escargot’s exterior had a refresh in 2023

Interiors

L’Escargot has an easy, old-fashioned charm, encapsulating the comfort of a traditional Mayfair restaurant with a frisson of Soho cool. The interior is all plush velvet seating, antique mirrors and soft candlelight, blending its storied past with contemporary touches, creating an atmosphere that feels both timeless and welcoming.

Take a seat in the front section for people watching from the large townhouse windows. The back section offers larger tables and a little more intimacy. 

The walls are adorned with art including pieces by Bacon, Hockney, Peter Blake, Picasso, Warhol, Grayson Perry and Lubiana Himid. Spot the reproductions of Matisse’s snail.

[A limited-edition white truffle menu makes 45 Jermyn Street even more indulgent]

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Food & Drink

L’Escargot’s menu is based on classic French cuisine in the traditional Parisian grand brasserie style, immaculately presented with an emphasis on technique and ingredients first approach under head chef James Tyrrell, formerly of Claridge’s

The menu features a symphony of flavours, from the velvety richness of traditional French onion soup to the meaty mushrooms in rich foie gras. But it’s the delicacy which gave the restaurant its name that remains the menu’s star attraction (the restaurant sells on average 5,000 snails a month). Drenched in a rich, buttery garlic sauce, the dish is worth the perils of the spring-loaded tongs diners are given to coax the perfectly cooked black coil from their shells (the crisp white table cloths endure a great deal).

Soak up the garlicky sauce with homemade light-as-air breads including the delicious ‘snail bread’,  a spiral of rich truffled brioche.

Vegetarian and vegan options are thoughtfully incorporated into the menu, a creamy mushroom tagliatelle is a highlight on one visit, a rich butter-soaked mushroom risotto vies for the top spot on another.

Threatening to steal the show, though, was a humble roquefort salad – the tang of the blue cheese, the bitterness of the red and white endive, and crunch of the walnuts slicing through the richness of the mains. 

Other standouts from a menu that changes to reflect the season, include the old favourite, lobster bisque, and a beautifully cooked côte de veau, sage and capers. 

The soufflé au chocolat is cooked to order and worth the wait. But despite the oozing magnificence of the souffle, it was the silky crème brûlée with its thick crust of bronzed sugar and luxurious vanilla custard that provided the perfect fin

The extensive, francophile wine list has many gems. There was a welcoming glass of crisp Henriot Brut ‘Souverain’ N.V. while a fruity Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de Grand Tinel stood up well to the garlic drenched snails -while the layered notes of the Côte-Rôtie, ‘Brune & Blonde’ were a good companion to the rich meaty mains.

[London restaurants win big in Michelin Guide Great Britain & Ireland 2024]

Service 

Impeccable. Elegant, attentive yet unobtrusive, diners are looked after extremely well by staff. 

The sommeliers are well-versed in the extensive wine list, guiding diners through a selection that complements the diverse flavours on the menu.

Worth knowing

There are several colourful private dining rooms, seating from 10 – 40 guests, on the upper floors which are perfect for special occasions, corporate events or private dinners. At the top of the house is the Snail Bar, which regularly hosts live music events.

The verdict 

In a world that puts so much value on the shiny and new, L’Escargot is a testament to tradition where food and comfort remain the focus. This Soho stalwart may have been around for nearly a century at its Greek Street location, but it feels fresh and timeless, cosy and a little eccentric. Perfect for a mid-week supper or a weekend family lunch. 

Details 

lescargot.co.uk
48 Greek Street W1D 4EF (020 7439 7474)

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