1893: Bruxelles. 1989: Paris. 2012: Londres.
Moules frites mega chain with humble Brussels roots and a massive presence in France (not quite to the extent of, say, Pizza Express here in the UK but that's a pretty good analogy), Léon de Bruxelles takes a leap across La Manche to have a go at British (and presumably Euro tourist and expat) punters with a new Soho restaurant.
Adding to the nine Chez Léon eateries in Belgium and close to 70 Léon de Bruxelles sites in France,
Léon takes over the old Med Kitchen location at the nexus of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. Set in the bustling heart of London with a cavernous space to fill, the restaurant seemed to be doing a pretty good job of placing bottoms in seats during our Friday evening visit with a steady stream of customers flowing in and for the most part appearing especially pleased when leaving. And if those customers were fans of moules frites and Belgian beer, it's easy to see why they enjoyed Léon so much.
The restaurant does breakfast, lunch and dinner and features a 'something for everyone' kind of menu. But the best (only?) reason to visit this place is for the mussels … which are excellent. Served in large cocottes with perfectly crisp frites on the side along with a basket of bread for sopping up all the savoury sauce, Léon's moules frites are available in a range of ten different styles – from classic Marinière to Ardennaise (with white wine, crème fraiche, smoked bacon and mushrooms) to mussels in a light Madras curry sauce – and priced between £11 and £16. Londonist can vouch for the Ardennaise and the Madras options (we'll be back!).
What better to accompany the famed Belgian duo than a Belgian beer? Léon's own micro brewed house draft (6% ABV, £3.50 for a half pint) is commendably cloudy choice and goes well with a number of selections. Spirits, cocktails, wine, soft drinks and a Belgian-centric but international (you can get a Guinness or a Corona for example) beer list round out the drinks menu.
Room for dessert? Yep you guessed it, Léon's got waffles from £3 (covered in icing sugar) to £8 (for a banana split extravaganza) along with an assortment of other sweet treats.
Service is especially friendly and keen to accommodate (if still getting the hang of things after a soft launch a week or so ago). The setting is comfortable and attractive. The location is about as convenient and central as they come.
Léon de Bruxelles is located at 24 Cambridge Circus, WC2H 8AA.