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Strand Dining Rooms
A handy destination for visitors and locals alike, this British brasserie on the corner of Trafalgar Square is open all day and ideal for breakfast, coffee or tea; on our early-days visit, however, its attractions as a lunch or dinner destination were less persuasive.
The Wolseley has a lot to answer for. When the Piccadilly institution they now like to call the 'grand café of the nation' opened in 2003, it showed - for the first time in living memory - that it was possible to make a hit of a big classy brasserie Ã la franÃ§aise. (Even if Chris and Jeremy do prefer to think of it as mitteleuropean')
It has subsequently been difficult for anyone to open a big brasserie-style London operation without some nod, subtle or otherwise, to the Wolseley, and - more than ten years on - you can still feel the influence as you enter this large new operation, handily located on the Charing Cross corner of Trafalgar Square. And, unfair as it may be, you can't help making comparisons with the Piccadilly colossus. Would Chris and Jeremy, for example, ever have put a main reception desk immediately inside the doors from the street? As we entered, we couldn't help wondering how that's going to work, exactly, when they have a rush on a busy cold night?
The waitress originally wanted to put us in the antechamber to the main room, but was happy enough when we asked if we could instead sit in the body of the kirk - a more welcoming setting, we thought, where a certain hint of the Wolseley style segues into the womb-like curved-Chesterfield embrace of an American steakhouse. The actual space, though, is not especially interesting. And would Chris and Jeremy ever allow pop Muzak like that? Guess not.
Despite the all-day brasserie format which is, for us at least, indelibly French, there's a commendable effort to make this a thoroughly British affair. Breakfast, therefore, looks as though it should be a winner. Or, for a nicely made cup of coffee and a slice of good homemade treacle tart - both much approved on our lunchtime visit - this could make a very handy and congenial destination. The tweed-waistcoated staff - nice variation on the classic Gallic uniform! - try hard too.
Simple English fare, though, needs to be realised with a lot of finesse to turn it into 'restaurant' dishes, and we're not quite sure that is achieved here. A 'seafood Scotch egg', admittedly, made a tasty and slightly unusual starter, but there was nothing to raise a dish of the day (bangers 'n' mash) or the vegetables selection above an ordinary gastropub. A seafood crumble was a real plodder, almost entirely devoid of interest, though as a generous source of protein it was beyond reproach.
1-3 Grand Buildings, Strand, London, WC2N 4JF
Last orders: 11 pm