I’ll admit it – I was glad when ‘Med Kitchen’ on the corner of Cambridge Circus closed down. Taking up a hugely prominent position on the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue right on one of London’s most fabulous ‘circuses’. Across the road from the spectacular Priscilla Queen of The Desert signage, it seemed non-descript, the kind of place that would grace any number of high streets up and down the land. Not once did I enter its doors.
Shortly after its closure at the end of last year, new boarding went up, promising the imminent arrival of Leon de Bruxelles, a popular chain of restaurants in France. After what seemed like forever, the boarding came down to reveal a green and cream interior reminiscent of an American diner. A cavernous space with seemingly endless seating, I ventured inside to see whether I felt it was worthy of such pride of place.
I went on a date, which is always a good way to enjoy a new restaurant. The excitement of meeting somebody new and learning about them is enhanced by the fact that neither of you have preconceptions of the food you are about to order. One thing which was predetermined however, was that we were both going to order mussels and frites. It is the house speciality, and the whole menu is essentially based around variations on this dish.
At the suggestion of our waitress I opted for the Provençale mussels (£14) which featured a creamy tomato sauce with crème fraiche, garlic, basil and black olives . My friend ordered the Mariniere mussels (£14) which were cooked in a white wine sauce with parsley and shallots. While I enjoyed the cooked tomatoes and olives in the Provençale, the Mariniere was by far the more flavourful option. With 10 combinations to choose from, there are bound to be some that are better than others, but sauce aside, the mussels were fantastic. Incredibly fresh, they opened easily and provided a delicious fleshy texture.
The frites on the other hand, were not at all what I would have expected from a venue of where they are half the speciality dish. Far too chunky and heavy to be considered frites in my mind, they had the texture of floury oven chips, as opposed to crispy thinly cut potato. Far more care had been given to the delicious freshly sliced baguette, which I used to mop the tasty mussel sauce.
I had high hopes for the waffles; another Belgian speciality which I was certain would be a treat. Sadly I was disappointed. The Banana Split Waffle (£8) was served cold and obviously pre-made. It was crunchy, but not in a good way, and lacked much flavour or texture once inside. I once worked in a coffee shop which sold fresh waffles, and believe me, it wasn’t hard to whip up a batch of batter and prepare waffles to order. The accompanying ice cream and 2 small slices of banana served only to add some moisture to the dish.
My companion fared a little better, but not by much – his ‘Warm melting chocolate cake’ (£6) was ultimately dry underneath all the chocolate sauce. He seemed happy enough with it, but I had enjoyed a moist chocolate brownie at ‘Yumchaa’ earlier that day, which reminded me that all chocolate desserts are not created equally.
The service was very good, and the staff seemed to be well informed about the menu and were happy to help in the decision making process. By the time it came to settle up, I felt as if I’d bonded with my date – a great outcome. It was only unfortunatel that some of this had been facilitated by a shared disappointment of seemingly standard Belgian staples in a Belgian restaurant. Not a terrible dining experience, but far below what I would expect from the flagship UK branch of a French institution. Perhaps it can be put down to teething problems, but the risk is that people won’t make a return visit when they go across the road to see Singin’ in the Rain.