Table of Four don’t always believe the hype but even the most iconoclastic foodies noshing their way through new talent in the capital cannot ignore the arrival of The Wolseley. Besides it’s the fag end of an awful winter that seems to have freeze dried any notion of Spring and the aforementioned hype noted hot buttered mash and cake aplenty so a table was swiftly claimed.
The concept is born of the grand café tradition; think inter war years Vienna. You’ve got to admire the boldness of the idea by a group of owners previously famous for big hits such as The Ivy and J Sheekey. Right lads, I’ve got an idea - let’s conjure up an atmosphere and a menu reminiscent of the Anschluss. (We can only imagine what the competing concepts may have been. A Cambodian steamboat joint called Pol’s Pots? Some sort of bondage themed noodle bar named Thai Me Up?)
Somehow, however it works. The interior is different; you are guaranteed not to have eaten anywhere quite so spectacularly overdone yet so un-self conscious. Service was slightly bizarre, especially as we all arrived separately and it took three attempts to deliver one of us to the right table, in the meantime being offered complete strangers as members of our party. We did not however encounter the rudeness that has been well documented here but as with all restaurants of this, er, ‘genre’, the staff is palpably superior. The seating plan is interesting, affording equal degrees of privacy and opportunities for people watching. And why not? Isn’t that what café society is all about?
Rather unfortunately for TO4 the grand café tradition did not literally mean 3 courses of cake but we struggled on. A Swiss soufflé got the first prize for starters – floating on a generous sauce this marigold bright dome of honeycombed cheese melted in the mouth. A close second of sweet and juicy potted shrimp expertly spiced with mace went well with the excellent bread. Eggs Florentine, all competing textures and wonderful colours was very good and came to the table hot with eggs so skilfully poached you wanted to frame them.
Mains of sea bream with orange and fennel and Weinerschnitzel followed. The former was a winner. The fish was roasted so well it had managed to maintain its moistness, imbue the thoughtfully chosen aromatics and yet develop a perfectly crisp skin. Whole fish are not the easiest thing to eat in company; however the skin came off in a whisper to denude generous fillets of pearlescent flesh that were edible without anyone choking themselves. Weinerschnitzel, an enormous slab of pounded veal was less interesting, but it did what it said on the tin. The sides of chips and mash have rarely been bettered and the spinach was wonderfully creamed and without a hint of sogginess that even the best restaurants can sometimes overlook. Cauliflower was a little bit controversial, the presentation suggesting soufflé, a bite proving a little too al dente for our palates. More than anything the simplicity of the dishes and the quality of the ingredients remained striking throughout.
And this was before a round of desserts that had four grown women slapping the table simultaneously in a sort of horrible recreation of ‘that’ When Harry Met Sally scene. Vanilla Cheesecake was scoffed in about 3 mouthfuls, punctuated by cakey pronouncements of ‘silky’, ‘smooth’ and ‘gone’. Scheiterhofen was the best excuse for eating brandy snaps outside December. Smothered with calvados ice cream, apple sauce and cinnamon custard this was the culinary equivalent of going first class on Eurostar to a Bavarian Christmas market. Schwarzwald Becher was the chocoholics choice – an enormous portion of ice cream and all the trimmings that minus the kirsch wouldn’t have been out of place at TGI Friday, and was none the worse for it.
TO4 are not sure whether the place lived up to the hype or how close the hype ever really was to the actual product. Bad service? A bit wobbly at times but it wasn’t bad but then it wasn’t up to standard of the Ivy either (which is the best.) Interesting menu? A great choice for all three courses and an evening and an ‘anytime’ selection that enabled you to bling it or wing it – tankards of black velvet could liven up your Welsh Rarebit or you could go all out and have the Beluga caviar on blinis for £110 a pop. Café atmosphere? It’s a natural habitat for the chattering classes - more 5th floor Harvey Nicks than the 5th Floor at Harvey Nicks. And did we see anyone famous? Well, no, we don’t think so, but then we weren’t really looking. The food was far more interesting.
3 courses, water and wine £65 a head. Open breakfast onwards.