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09 August 2005

The Wolseley *****

The_wolseley I'm not sure if it's just me, or my family, but birthday's invariably mean food.  As far back as I can remember my abiding memory of birthday parties, apart from going home presents, was what food was served.  Ben & James' where there were forbidden pork sausages, Sanj's where there was a food fight with the ice cream cake or mine where I never seemed to get any birthday cake (not that I'm bitter). 

This birthday was no different.  What with Wednesday night at Locanda Locatelli, an ice cream machine, a Weber Smokey Mountain and then Sunday breakfast at The Wolseley I was well looked after.  I love The Wolseley, I totally buy into the whole mittel-European schtick of the place, I think the concept of being able to eat what you want when you want it, combined with top-notch cooking, works fantastically.  It is no doubt helped by the beautiful room with sweeping arched ceilings and long, low hanging chandeliers.  The blacks and golds that dominate give the room an unmistakable 1920s feeling.

It is no surprise that it's not that easy to get a table, however walk in off the street and you may well hit pay-dirt with the 30% of tables they hold back from reservations.  Yes, the place is teeming with American tourists, even post 7/7, but there are also real Londoners there.  Quite often there are people sitting happily by themselves, both men and women, sipping at a coffee, nibbling on a cake, as well as larger tables of diners tucking into course after course of irresistible food.  Anywhere that makes me feel so totally at home and comfortable, whether I'm after a lazy breakfast or trying to schmooze a prospective client, has got to be good.

Particularly noteworthy are those things that should be noteworthy for somewhere modeled on an Austrian cake shop.  Their pickled cucumber salad is fantastically vinegary with a strong smack of salt - just like Grandma used to make.  I have it on authority that the chopped liver and chicken soup are equally good.  Don't get me wrong this is not the shtetl for the masses, the kedgeree is what it's supposed to be, an unctuous gooey mass of curried rice, hunks of smoked mackerel and a runny poached egg.

Smoked fish and poached eggs are a classic combo that I felt compelled to recreate at breakfast on Sunday.  The kippers were delicious, the smoke not overpowering the fish but giving it a real salty hit.  The two pats of mustard butter atop the kippers gave it that extra bite.

I don't want to be known as a pig but I was finding it tough to ignore the beautiful array of croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche etc.  I decided that as it was still my birthday (give or take four days) I would indulge and so ordered a croissant.  For some reason it seemed quite cold - a victim of their arctic floor level air-con rather than refrigeration.  However, with its buttery flakes drifting towards my mouth, the temperature of the thing was soon forgotten.  Don't forego the excellent (homemade?) jams.  The marmalade was particularly good.  Silverbrowess honourably shared the croissant with me in addition to perfectly cooked scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.  The brioche they were nestling was not too cloyingingly sweet and was as light as feather.  Again, another hit.

If I could make any criticisms they were that a) a glass of tapwater we ordered stunk of old rag, I imagine it had just been wiped down with one and b) in their extensive selection of pastries there was no sign of a pain au raisin or similar.  Neither of these is drastic but I urge them to sort out the latter at the earliest opportunity.

For some reason breakfast is rarely the cheapest meal of the day and this was no exception with each of our dishes coming in at the £12 mark, plus a few quid here or there for coffees and orange juice you'll be lucky to come out with change from a £50.  However, you could quite happily sit there sipping a £1.95 espresso and no-one would bat an eyelid.

The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9EB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 6996
Google Maps
Google Earth

What others think
The Observer - Immense skill and professionalism
New York Times - Old world elegance
GQ - Old world glamour and top nosh

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I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. I haven't had a pickled cucumber salad in the longest time, but I remember how good it was! Perhaps I should try to make my own!

I was taken to the Wolseley for a breakfast treat one Monday morning last month. Having called in sick, it felt deliciously wicked eating fried eggs and haggis with a glass of champagne watching everyone trundle through the drizzle on their way to work.
Highly recommended.

Pleased you enjoyed it - sounds a rather indulgent way to spend a Monday.

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