The Wolseley. An Old Classic.
Obviously, I am not going to keep mentioning the fact that I have got a problem with my back. You know, the disc problem I mentioned last week. Yes, the three bulging discs in my neck and the one prolapsed disc in my thoracic spine. I didn’t even know I had a thoracic spine.
When I do a thing, I do it properly.
Certain people have asked me whether it is going to put a stop to my restaurant reviewing activities. People who don’t know me very well. I’m a lawyer. Trained to find solutions. Whether it’s a defective title or a defective disc. So to the issue of where I can eat with ease. I’m thinking comfort, space, service and no music.
My mind wanders to somewhere I expect to find all these things and it falls on the self-styled ‘café-restaurant in the grand European tradition‘ that is The Wolseley.
I probably don’t need to tell you that the name “Wolseley” derives from the fact that this was built as a car showroom in 1921, for Wolseley cars, who went bust shortly thereafter. It was taken over by Barclays Bank in 1927, but rescued and restored to the food-loving public by the present operators, Corbin and King, in 2003. And it is a spectacular sleb magnet that isn’t flashy, glitzy or blingy, in the manner of certain newcomers.
Unfortunately, all that was available was the pensioner special 5:45 slot. Time of tourists and old people. This suits my partner-in-crime B, because B starts work at a time which most sane people would regard as a sign of mental illness. Happily, that is not the case, but it does mean that B always wants to eat dinner rather early. I do not argue.
Before we get there, they telephone to ask whether I will be wanting the afternoon tea, the pre-theatre or the à la carte menu. I like that.
And when I get there, because they can see that I am bearing not a small resemblance to Quasimodo, they immediately offer to get a cushion for my back. I love them already.
We look at the enormous menu. I am seeing things that I love: chopped liver, salt beef, chicken soup. Lovely, homely deli classics. But that is not all. Also present are the café classics of my youth, comfort food such as pot-roasted lamb, rosemary roast chicken and my favourite, Wiener schnitzel.
But we start with that other timeless classic, soufflé Suisse, which we demolish in seconds. A light cheese soufflé, with a grilled cheese and mushroom sauce and chopped chives. This was billed as a main course, but we both fancied it as a starter. In fact, you could have this as a starter quite happily, if you were rather greedy, or if you were me.
It wasn’t the best soufflé Suisse I’ve ever tasted – that was at Le Gavroche. But then that was three times the price. But it was perfectly good and I just about managed not to lick the plate.
Because my arm is not working properly (did I mention that I had a problem with my back?) I can’t cut properly so I asked for a serrated-edged knife which I could move back and forth to cut the schnitzel into pieces. I’m nothing if not determined.
The waiter offered to cut it up into strips, small pieces or indeed soldiers. Soldiers. I think I fell in love him at that point. And this was the style of service throughout. Attentive, with a personality, not intrusive but always there when you needed.
I managed to get the food into my face at the pace a normal person might eat. God, it was slow. The veal was moist, the crumb crisp and the jus delicious. Faultless. Accompanied by some brussels sprouts and some rather enormous whole carrots, which I am afraid caused us to smirk, this was a satisfying dish.
And then, because we really needed, a lemon meringue tart. Not the big slab of lemon meringue pie that I was secretly hoping for; you know, the sort you get in America – six inches high with two inches of meringue on top. This was a delicate little round pastry, maybe the size of my palm, with pretty, pointy bits of meringue, piped onto the top. I was a little disappointed, but my inner dieter was happy. It was fine, all two mouthfuls of my share of it.
And something that happens rarely. I didn’t want to leave. I was enjoying the company, I was enjoying the food and I was relaxed. I ordered coffee. It came with a dark chocolate oval. I happened to mention to the waiter that B felt a little left out, as her mint tea had no chocolate oval with it. The tragedy. Before the words were out of my mouth: a platter full of chocolate discs arrived.
Maybe it was the pills or maybe it was just that this is a fantastically slick and accomplished restaurant, with superb service that made me happy. I loved the detail, I loved the feel. The food is good but here it’s not all about the food, it’s all about making you feel cared for and in my current situation, (did I mention it?) that’s just what the doctor ordered.
Best for: anything at all, really. Clients, friends, families. Grown-ups.
Worst for: people who want to queue to taste street food which might get stuck in their beards or beehives.