Monday, February 16, 2009

Lunching in London: The Wolseley

I really should have been a member of the Ladies Who Lunch club because I truly enjoy a good, long midday meal, preferably one with some alcoholic beverages. A friend recommended The Wolseley for just such a lunch in London. The way he described it was that it was like Balthazar in NYC's Soho, only more "posh". Having seldom used the word "posh" to describe anything, I was very curious to see what this Balthazar of London had to offer so booked a boozy lunch with MC for my 2nd day in London.

First impression was not great...I made a rezzie from their online booking system and got an email confirmation back that said I was confirmed for the noon time slot I asked for but then "the table is required for another party at 13:30." As if! An hour and a half is certainly not enough time for a real boozy brunch/lunch! But I was too curious and heard great things from even others plus read great reviews so decided to keep the rezzies.

Walking out of the Green Park tube station, I was immediately struck by how "posh" St. James was as a neighborhood. The Ritz hotel was right next door, with its uniformed and white gloved porters who greeted even passersby on the street. The big name couture shops are all here, Gucci, Burberry, Valentino, you name it, it's got one. The streets were clean, the buildings in white marble. It all felt very proper and very English upper class.

The Wolseley certainly fit its surroundings very well. We opened the door to a high ceiling, very open dining space with large impressive chandeliers. Lots of wood paneling and mirrors and windows created a light and airy yet refined feel. The diners were a mixed bag, many business types hushing over deals of some sort, young professionals and couples having an intimate lunch. Not real tourists except us and given that it's noon on a Friday, not many people in general. There is a bar to the right hand side when you are facing the main entrance (which was more packe than the dining room. Gotta love the Brits and their drinking) and a smaller cafe to the left.

One look at the menu and I realized why this is compared to Balthazar: a french bistro theme and even the typeface on the menu looked similar. The usual suspects were there, like oysters, onion soup, steak frites, skate. There were a few British touches like fish and chips, fish stew, kedgeree. A very wide selection for a lunch menu.

Over glasses of champagne we decided to get the avocado vinaigrette and a chopped salad to start. The avocado was perfectly ripened and the vinaigrette subtle. Chopped salad was good but fairly uneventful. What truly was eventful however, were the gin and tonics. I don't usually drink G&T (reminds me of old people frankly and I hate tonic water) but I figured when in Rome...we were not disappointed. There isn't usual after taste of tonic and whatever gin they used was smooth and fragrant and the lime touch made it even more refreshing. The best part of our meal so far.

For entrees, MC and I ordered the steak au poivre and the roast chicken. I made the mistake of ordering medium for the temperature of the meat and got...well, medium. I was used to NYC where medium actually came out medium rare. The meat was too well done for my taste but the au poivre and the sauce were just right. I think it would have been great if I had ordered it right, medium rare. MC's roast chicken on the other hand was just amazing. Skin on, bone in, very tender and juicy and full of flavor. I guess they were not joking when they said that the Brits make roast chicken taste like foie gras.

For dessert, I got the bitter chocolate mousses which was just heaven. It came on the plate like a scoop of ice cream and tasted like the orgasmic smooth silky dark hot chocolate that I had once in Barcelona. MC's rhubarb and apple crumble was less stellar. There was too little crumble to offset the tart mush filling. Even the waitress who witnesses him devouring my chocolate and leaving his filling untouched said the same thing. At least she was honest.

All in all, I really liked the Wolseley and would recommend it for a nice lunch/dinner or maybe just some snacks at the bar area. The food was a bit overpriced but you are somewhat paying for the atmosphere for sure. It's not going to be a fun rowdy type of place but more for a quiet, intellectual conversation or maybe a romantic rendezvous.

PS: The funny thing was they were very anal and would not allow me to take a photo of the dining room from the front entrance but I still managed to take shots of it from our table and also shots of our food. Proper English manners and protocol trumped once again by ingenius, resourceful American tourist cunning!

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