Much has been said about the dead West End thanks to the (nonsensical) combination of Tier 2 and the 10pm curfew. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. One night, having an emergency steak at The Bull on Red Lion Street (for my money the best steak restaurant in London), I was the only customer. The only one all evening, so the lovely manager told me. Outside Parsons (my favourite fish restaurant) I thought I saw tumbleweed drift by my oyster platter. It’s so desperately sad; and it’s not just the restaurants’ employees that will suffer but the rest of the supply chain too. Where is everyone?
I think they might all be at Louie, hiding in plain sight. Arriving for a 1pm reservation (ah, the “business lunch exception”) it was packed to the rafters. Perhaps they’ve just siphoned off the media executives and resting actors from The Ivy next door, but it was a rambunctious crowd that belied the eerily quiet streets outside.
Perhaps it’s not that surprising that there’s already a major buzz about Creole-inspired Louie: originally slated for opening in March, a certain pandemic put paid to that and only prolonged the anticipation. At last, this two-floor hostelry once occupied by L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, opened in September. It’s the brainchild of restaurateur Laurent de Gourcuff (best known for Parisian hotspots Girafe and Loulou) and Guillaume Glipa, the dude behind Zuma, Coya and Chiltern Firehouse. On that basis alone I should have hated it; glitzy, celebrity hangouts where people go to be seen and only eat by osmosis are about as appealing as a flagon of cold vomit. But one should put one’s prejudices aside and give everywhere a chance. Besides, they’ve installed renowned New Orleans chef Slade Rushing on the stoves. Together they have promised to blend his multi-cultural heritage of the Deep South with the urbane chic of Paris and New York. On paper that’s the nearest thing I’ve experienced to international travel in this annus horribilus. And I admire de Gourcuff’s bravery; given the prospects of the UK at the moment, it seems one hell of a leap of faith to invest on this side of the Channel. I wish them luck in this economic climate. The customers are at least beneficiaries, for the time being.
There were a few niggles though, which if this lunch accurately represents the general experience, should be straightened out. The buzz of happy diners was encouraging but not so enjoyable when the bass on the speakers has been turned up to 11. The aural assault was just bordering on intolerable. Then, like a Brexit-leaning tabloid, little restrictions weren’t made clear until it was too late: I rather fancied diving in with the devilled eggs but apparently these aren’t available until 3pm for some inexplicable reason. And there was a minor slip-up in my first order: the beetroot and Roquefort salad delivered to my table was not the green bean, saffron potato and Creole mustard salad I ordered. It was a good salad nonetheless.
The cocktail list is in a small but perfectly formed pink pamphlet – the kind of publication you would normally expect to contain parish council notices or passive-aggressive instructions about your building’s bin policy – though the contents here are far more thrilling. There are the likes of the ‘Fugazy’ which seems to be an homage to the Vieux Carré – the classic cocktail invented in New Orleans’ Hotel Monteleone – or the ‘Cowboy Grass’ comprising Villa Ascenti, dill, citrus and tonic water (yours for £14). I went for the ‘Jazzed Up’, mostly because I was intrigued by the inclusion of balsamic vinegar in a gin cocktail. It was refreshing though I’m not sure I’d choose it again.
Rushing’s cuisine lives up to the promised blend of influences and cooking techniques, even if descriptions like “Deconstructed Rockefeller” make me wince (haven’t we moved on from the early noughties?).
Grilled poussin with roasted ‘Dunkirk’ carrots, garlic confit and parsley jus was extremely satisfying, especially the crispy skin on the bird. It was like going to a neighbour’s barbecue but in slightly more salubrious surroundings.
The seafood gumbo has pride of place on the a la carte menu and is the dish that perhaps most exemplifies Louisiana cuisine. My dining companion consumed the gumbo with gusto; a beast of a soup made with okra, “local” seafood (not from The Thames, thankfully) and andouille sausage – the latter ingredient is not for the faint-hearted if sausage made from tripe and intestines is not your thing. Meanwhile, the ‘Louie burger’ with raclette (yes, raclette) was ear-marked for next time.
To finish, the selection of desserts seemed a little limited, but a quenelle of tonka ice cream and a dusting of cinnamon over tarte tatin served tableside rounded off the meal with a little bit of theatre.
But let’s not beat about the bush. Louie isn’t cheap. Wines by the glass are served in parsimonious 125ml measures and range between £8 and £20 for relatively young, unspectacular vintages. Starters come in around the £15 mark; ditto salads. Value is all relative of course and I do recommend the £8 side of truffle sweet potato gratin: a melt-in-the-mouth millefeuille of sweet potato, truffle and cheese layers. It’s a thing of beauty, at £2 a mouthful. Overall, it’s not somewhere the average Joe or Josephine can visit regularly in these straitened times or without noise-cancelling headphones; I suspect, though, West End executives making the most of the apparent loophole for business lunches will have no issue with footing the bill.
13-15 West Street
by J A Smith