Lunch on the left bank. OK, so it’s not Paris. No happy smell of tear gas, no waiters with selective blindness. Gazette is however ... Read Feature
My friend Captain Moonlight, the dating king (or just The Captain for short) is approaching two major life milestones. Firstly, it is the imminent arrival of his second child. Secondly, it’s that shortly after this he will be dragged rather unwillingly into his forties. Whether or not a new child will limit his ability to have decade defining birth celebrations or not, it has however gifted him a great excuse to start celebrating early.
The Captain has always had a weakness for destination restaurants. You know, the one’s with names you can immediately recognise when some poseur drops them into a conversation. I share this somewhat as previous columns singing the praises of the likes of The Ivy & Joe Allen will attest to.
This time we decided to descend on the Wolseley, the Corbin and King grand brasserie across the road from the Ritz. This was for years the go-to destination for power breakfasts in the West End, it has served so many that even I’ve had a couple. Never had dinner there though, or lunch for that matter.
We arrived promptly, and we seated as appropriate for a grand café in a grand dining room. The Wolseley was built as car showroom at the start of the 1920’s for the eponymously enough Wolseley motors. It later became a bank and these days the main dining room does do a very passable impersonation of a grand European brasserie.
It is very grand with ceilings so high you can imagine little clouds starting to form and enough Doric columns to support several Greek temples. To me ironically the sheer volume of air above my head seemed to act as vacuum sucking the atmosphere away from the table, with conversations difficult to have in what sounded like the din of a crowded station.
The menu I suppose is meant to reflect the grand café tradition. To me it seemed to be more a selection of things various chefs have liked from over the years. It was also surprisingly sea fish heavy for a landlocked culture.
Whilst we took our time making our choices, we enjoyed a champagne cocktail each. These are an acquired taste, but here the bar is one of the best places to go if you’re looking to broaden your range of acquired vices.
There is as you’d expect an extensive wine list with a good selection of both reds and whites. Aiming as is customary for me for the middle slopes I chose a Macon Village which was dry enough and citrusy enough to satisfy both our cravings. The wine though was the last high note to be hit that evening.
I started with an endive, Roquefort and walnut salad, well at least that’s how it was described on the menu. Now I have nothing against pecans, and have on occasion enjoyed a pecan pie, but they are not walnuts even if they are self-identifying on my plate as such.
The rest of the dish was OK, the endive was fresh and the cheese tangy they just all lolloped on the plate not really having much to do with each other. The Captain’s prawns were a different story entirely, well presented, well dressed and well tasty, actually I am well kidding. 6 unshelled prawns with not sauce, looking like they’d just escaped from a well-known retailer’s prawn ring after failing the quality test. To say that the Captain was underwhelmed would be an understatement as no quantity of whelmed was involved here at all.
For the main course I’d seen that one of my many guilty pleasures, a salt beef sandwich lurked somewhat obscurely on the menu. I should have been warned as when I’d asked the waiter if it was any good, he’d answered somewhat cryptically ‘about 8:15 sir’ which I’d found somewhat confusing.
So where do I start, well ideally, it’d be with a different sandwich, but we have to work with what we’re given and here I was given an untoasted, unpickled and nearly unbeefed reject from the M&S school of over-priced near sustenance. It tasted like a supermarket sandwich, and the salt beef wasn’t the good moreish chunks of delicious pink meat, but the thin slices of stuff more likely to be found lurking within a single use plastic wrapper.
The Captain’s chicken to me seemed to be an unremarkable platter of light beige which revealed itself to be formed of either chicken or potatoes depending on which of the plate you were looking at. Taste tests were rather less conclusive.
The only good thing was the side salad of vinegared cucumber, which added a certain level of bite to an otherwise meal of exceptional blandness. Even the bill when it came was bland, coming in at about £150 the same sort of level always seemingly reached by restaurants of this type when 2 dine together.
In this case though it wasn’t worth it. The dining room I admit is personal taste, other people have told me how much they love it and it is reminiscent of what it is trying to emulate. But the somewhat indifferent service, the less than run of the mill food combined with top flight prices means that this is somewhere I doubt I’ll be hurrying back to.