THE WOLSELEY: IN SERIOUS NEED OF A SERVICE
A little over two years ago I was admonished by an early adopter of the blog for a glowing review I to gave a morning meal at The Wolseley. I had enjoyed a splendid breakfast and both service and food were up to the same standards as my previous four visits. I took his highly technical description of the current state of the food as “shit” with a shovel full of salt, but had no great inclination to fork over a fistful of my hard-earned to see if his views on their evening offerings carried any merit.
Move on to 2008 and I found myself seated at a lousy table feeling like a gatecrasher at a party to which I had not been invited. If my critic had not enjoyed the food in 2006, he would have extruded baby cats at the quality and cost of our meal last night.
On the surface, everything appeared as it was. The door was opened with a courteous welcome by a liveried doorman (I am still a sucker for that) the meet and greet was handled promptly and with charm and I could even put up with being seated at a poor table because it created cover for me to sneak the hastily snapped shots that illustrate our evening.
The menu too remained unchanged filled with the classics that had gladdened my heart on previous visits. By the time HP arrived and settled down with a glass of house white, my choices had already been made and it didn’t take him long to catch up.
It also didn’t take us long to catch on that all was no longer well with The Wolseley kitchen wise. A plate of deep-fried whitebait came, not as they should, in crisp, individual morsels, but in one great fishy pancake where poor frying had left the batter soft and oily enough to leave a greasy slick on the plate. To add spice, the fish had been sprinkled liberally with powerful paprika, which would have been better suited to season the batter. Quite nasty.
HP’s Tartine au Pied du Porc met with more approval, but was still a listless example of a potentially great dish, further dragged down by a dirty puddle of jus on the plate.
Main courses too showed how far standards had slipped since my last evening meal here. The Wiener Schnitzel Holstein had, on previous visits, been top of the tree, a crisp crumb protecting the veal, which had already taken enough battering, the egg on top cooked perfectly and the anchovies adding the pre-requisite savoury edge. Now, I was presented with £19.50 worth of grease that made me wonder if anyone looked over the plate before service. Any chef with a basic knowledge of short order cooking would have sent this travesty back with a snarl to make El Gordo wince. The coating slimed off the meat as I tried to cut into it and after taking a few bites and mopping up the egg with some tough chips, I pushed it aside.
HP’s Barnsley chop was if possible even worse and “pink” became “raw” as he struggled to find anything positive to say about the hunk of meat on his plate. Even the decent ribbon of fat along the edge did not appear to have been exposed to any source of heat.
As I headed off to the bathroom, HP had that all too familiar look of consumer crusader in his eyes and, by the time I had returned, our plates had been cleared and one of the captains was offering us a free dessert. If I tell you that the only thing to commend the two coups that came our way as recompense was that they did not cost anything, it should merely confirm what a dispiriting experience the whole meal was.
We had been told in no uncertain terms that we had the table for two hours, but with service primed for table turning, found ourselves out in the cold chill of Piccadilly a little over an hour after we arrived, £85 the poorer and wondering if Corbin and King know or care just how poor their flagship has become. It remains I believe the highest grossing restaurant in London, so I suspect if they do know, they don’t care.
In the meantime if Simon Darwell-Taylor is still reading along, I apologise. I don’t know if you were right then, I suspect you may well have been, but you are certainly right now.
The Wolsely is “shit”