Brasserie Roux, St James's, London

He revolutionised Britain's restaurants. Surprising then, that Albert Roux's new brasserie in St James's isn't quite up to scratch, says Jay Rayner
Jay Rayner
Sun 1 Sep 2002 06.45 EDT

The empty plinth standing in one corner of London's Trafalgar Square would, I think, be the perfect place for a statue of stocky, barrel-chested Albert Roux. That would be a fitting honour for a man who, through Le Gavroche and the chefs he has employed there - Gordon Ramsay, Rowley Leigh and Marcus Wareing among them - has had a greater influence on the British restaurant business than almost any other. From there he could fix the legions of passing tourists who think lunch in an Aberdeen Angus Steak House is a reasonable proposition, with his trademark mocking grin.

His constant presence might also serve as a warning to the staff of his new brasserie, which recently opened just off the square. Because if the Roux name stands for anything, it is consistency; the kind of consistency that won him three Michelin stars when he was at the stoves of Le Gavroche. At the moment, that is exactly what his new team are failing to achieve.

It's a shame because the plush and airy Brasserie Roux is an admirable project. It is the restaurant of the new and rather Eurotrashy Sofitel Hotel in London's St James's, whose rose-themed sitting room is simply to die for, darling - although only if you dream of being buried in a coffin designed by Laura Ashley. By comparison, the dining room is a restrained affair of low-key colours, bare tables and sea-green banquettes. The menu is lengthy and for once, the word brasserie is being used properly. It contains lots of classic dishes - snails, chicken-liver salad, duck confit - that you would expect to find on a real Parisian brasserie's menu. (Plus a few that you wouldn't; what drugs were they on when they devised 'lightly poached fillet of halibut, mango, pineapple and curry sauce'?) Pricing, at around £35 a head including wine, is moderate for this corner of London.

And some of the food is good. A smoked-haddock tart with poached egg brought a crisp pastry base, great fat flakes of fish beneath a crusted cheese sauce and a lusciously leaking poached egg; saucisson Lyonnaise with underdressed warm potato salad, on the other hand, was a dry and cloying mess that stuck to the roof of the mouth as if it were trying to save the stomach from the experience.

Main courses were equally uneven. On the upside, the pan-fried beef skirt, a cheap cut of meat that doesn't get on to menus nearly often enough, came rare, as ordered, and had a real depth of flavour.

On the downside was the rotisserie of the day, at the bargain price of £9.50: half a roast chicken, pomme purée and cauliflower cheese. It sounds like the kind of thing Mama might make, doesn't it? Well, it was - particularly if your mama is the kind of careless woman who serves her mash cold. For the first time in this job I sent the plate back. When it returned, the chicken had clearly spent too much time kicking its heels - or whatever it is that dead, bisected chickens have - under the pass lights, and was tragically dry. This is a textbook example of how to screw up what could have been a great dish.

And so the meal went on its rocky way. Cheeses, from a small selection supplied by the renowned Jacques Vernier of Paris, were well kept; some of the biscuits to go with them were, however, stale. My companion got all she deserved for ordering the Malibu and apricot délice, which sounded a bad idea on the menu, and was. There are clearly better choices to be had.

I say all this regretfully, because Brasserie Roux is a great proposition which is just failing to hit the mark. There are lots of things on the menu I'd like to eat, service is charming, and they only tried to pour my wine for me twice. What's more, it would take very little to get all these wrinkles sorted. I am told Albert eats here most days, but recently he's been out of commission having his hips done. Let's hope that he and his brasserie swiftly get back on their feet.