Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 6996
Address: 160 Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 9EB
Cuisine Type: Modern European
It’s 10pm on a freezing March night and Mrs B and I are sitting in the rather salubrious, not to mention cosily warm, environs of The Wolseley on Piccadilly. We hadn’t planned to be here. In fact, we’d been turned away rather rudely from a nice-looking but absolutely heaving Thai restaurant in Waterloo (Thai City – don’t go there) and had then decided to head for Fakhreldine, a quality Lebanese restaurant near Green Park that we’d been to a few years earlier.
The only thing is, we went the wrong way out of the station. Let’s just say it turned out to be one of our better mistakes…
Any London foodie would have had to have had their head buried in a vat of baked beans not to know that The Wolseley has been the place to be seen dining in since it opened its doors in 2003. The building itself is certainly spectacular, a Grade II-listed monument from the 1920s that has been given a new lease of life by Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, former proprietors of Le Caprice and The Ivy.
In keeping with the ethos of those uber-popular establishments, The Wolseley errs on the side of the non-pretentious with its menu, with commonplace dishes like hamburgers sitting alongside more exotic items such as Beluga caviar and Boudin Blanc. This mix finds its parallel in the decor (grandiose, pre-Second World War in scale but with plenty of modern touches), and in the clientele, with suited old-timers sitting on tables next to whippersnappers in baseball caps.
But enough about the ambience, what about the grub? Well, I’m pleased to report that the hype is not a load of tripe. My starter of French onion soup was nigh on perfect – a huge quantity, excellently salted with a pile of cheese melted on top. Mrs B’s Eggs Benedict was similarly spot-on. Before she became infamous for making bizarre half-time football pep talks, Delia Smith was right about people not knowing how to cook eggs, judging by how many cafés and restaurants can’t get the yolk to the correct, runny consistency. In contrast, The Wolseley got it just right and together with the bacon, muffin and Hollandaise sauce it was the best starter this side of Saturday brunch.
Main courses were not too shabby either. I opted for the spit-roast lamb, which I was told would come pink. It did, but they didn’t tell me it would melt in my mouth with an infusion of herbs, nor that the polenta and black olives accompaniment was good enough to make us wonder if we should ever bother trying to do polenta ourselves again. Meanwhile, Mrs B had plumped for a parmentier of black pudding and oxtail. It tasted as rich as it sounds but when combined with the side order of spinach, a careful and exquisite balance was struck.
After two such pleasingly well-endowed courses, we sensibly decided to skip dessert and head straight for coffee. At least we thought we were skipping desert – how we were to know that ordering amaretti biscuits would lead to three gorgeous, dried fruit-filled, cake-like handfuls that would release a lorry-load of endorphins in someone with a penchant for almond and marzipan?
Speaking of the coffee, what a bargain for a restaurant of this stature (Richard Corrigan, take note). £2.75 for a pot – four cups’ worth – of Americano. We had the decaff and it tasted better than most of the muck that certain global coffee chains squirt out.
In fact, when the bill arrived I was pleasantly surprised. Okay, we’d had no wine (given up for Lent – we’re suffering), but at £36 each, including service, it wasn’t much more than the bill from Black & Blue a week earlier when we’d had a vastly inferior, not to mention more paltry, meal.
In a former life, this building was a branch of Barclays. Somehow this is strangely appropriate, for while The Wolseley does not break the bank, it does entice you to come back and deposit more of your hard-earned cash. The descriptions of breakfast and afternoon tea in the menu were a bit appetite-whetting. We’ll see you there.