Les Sablons, Harvard Square’s newest restaurant, bills itself as “between London and Paris.” As the crow flies, that would likely put a diner somewhere in the English Channel, but metaphorically, it fits Les Sablons perfectly.
The restaurant, which officially opened Tuesday, is a partnership between owners of some of the highest-profile restaurants in Boston, including Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34: Garrett Harker, Shore Gregory, Skip Bennett, and Jeremy Sewall.
Sewall serves as the chef and a partner at Les Sablons, while Brian Rae (Rialto, Centre Street Cafe) is chef de cuisine. Sewall has been integral in helping to curate the menu, meaning plenty of seafood options alongside the more traditional English and French dishes like pea soup and foie gras. Jackson Cannon, the award-winning bartender behind Eastern Standard’s award-winning cocktail program, is helming the cocktail experience on the ground floor of the restaurant.
Despite the involvement of so many people and elements from such well-regarded restaurants, general manager Brian Murtagh (Hotel Commonwealth) said that the biggest influence on the dining experience at Les Sablons is the deft touch of Rae.
“With Brian Rae, the cooking technique is very French, but he’s pushing the boundaries,” Murtagh said. “You’ll see some typical fare like filet mignon and monkfish. But he’s doing everything that he possibly can to combine the typical French and English dishes in new and inventive ways.”
The drink menu is also distinctly European, with a number of vintage wines from the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France selected by wine director Lauren Daddona (L’Espalier), and a beer list that features drafts from Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, and Denmark.
Murtagh, who moved here from Ireland 10 years ago, said the building that houses Les Sablons, known as the Conductor’s Building, is perfectly suited for the restaurant’s theme.
“For me, it’s the aesthetics of the building,” Murtagh said. “Once you walk in, it really feels like you’re in a metropolitan city somewhere in Europe.”
The Conductor’s Building, erected in 1912, served as administrative headquarters for the Boston Elevated Railway. According to Murtagh, what is now the 100-seat upstairs dining room was once a headquarters for the conductors and railway officers. The basement, which is now the restaurant’s kitchen, was a social space for railway workers that had a gym and a bowling alley.
“They utilized the three stories as well as they could,” Murtagh said. “And we’re trying to do the same.”
Murtagh said that when he pored over the old blueprints for the building, he was struck by the fact that there were specific spaces allocated for checkerboards, reflecting the intimate, yet conversational atmosphere for which Les Sablons is striving.
“In this day, those spots would probably be charging stations for iPhones,” Murtagh said. “But back then, you had to actually chat with your partner.”
Les Sablons, located at 2 Bennett St., is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m, and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Take a look at their opening night menu below.