The Wolseley has become a London institution, based in what was once a bank with a lovely, high-ceilinged dining room in a great location just along from The Ritz. The mostly French wine list has just over 50 labels, ranging in price from £19.75 to £235, with a median price of £42 a bottle and an average mark-up 2.9 times the retail price, which is pretty average for central London and less than you will often see in Mayfair. As is usual, the mark-up levels were much kinder at the high end of the wine list. Example wines were Bianco di Custoza 2011 Monte del Fra at £23 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £8.40, Sancerre 2010 Domaine de la Chézatte at £43.50 for a wine that retails at £14.40, and Brunello di Montalcino 2005 Pian dell’Orino at £78.50 compared to a shop price of around £39.60.
A salad Nicoise (£11.50) was a rather lazy affair, with tinned tuna, boiled egg, tastless tomatoes and artichokes, decent lettuce, a few beans and hardly any olives – this was edible but was very ordinary (1/10). Wiener schnitzel (£19.75) was better, the meat having reasonable flavour, though the batter was a little on the soggy side (3/10). Pommes frites (£4.25) were thin and reasonably crisp, if undersalted (4/10). The best thing I tried was the lemon tart, which was actually quite good, with well-made pastry and a good balance to the lemon filling, with a pleasing level of acidity but not too sharp (perhaps 5/10). Service was functional at best, but at least was better than on my last visit. Overall the Wolseley is something of a machine, processing large numbers of diners with efficiency rather than any great charm, the food being consistent and competently made, but no more than that. However the glorious setting and appealing menu ensure that it is constantly packed, even for breakfast.
The notes below are from a meal inJanuary 2006.
The art deco dining room is impressive, with a few tables in an upstairs gallery but mostly just a very high-ceilinged space. Tables are tiny and packed tightly in. The formula is very much ike The Ivy or J. Sheeky i.e. comfort food, and who is to criticise? A starter of mushroom risotto featured rice that had absorbed just about the right amount of chicken stock, all very good considering that the dish was not made the traditional way (5/10). For main course I tried a hamburger, which arrived as an impressive slab of meat on half a bun, in order to show off just how generous a hunk of cow it was. The taste fortunately matched the confident presentation, and this certainly knocks the “Gourmet Burger Kitchen” into a cocked hat. The burger was served simply with a slice of cold tomato and a few slices of gherkins, along with (at extra cost) some quite capable thin chips (4/10). My wife had “crab hash” rather like a fishcake, served with sliced and marinated slices of cucumber and a slice of cooked tomato (3/10). Dessert was mixed, with a capable lemon tart featuring good pastry and well balanced filling (5/10), but a poor apple strudel that was almost cold when served, and with stringy apple filling (0/10). Coffee was of good quality (5/10).
Service was a shambles, with a bottle of water having to be asked for three times before something similar turned up. Then on the bill I was overcharged for two items, which is annoying given they also introduced that horror from the past, the £2 cover charge (for nothing whatever that I could detect unless it was the barely replaced rather dull bread rolls). Another oddity was that they use a bizarre “wine glass” that is essentially a water glass, with no wine glass shape whatever, allowing the bouquet of the wine to dissipate rather than being concentrated. I asked for a champagne glass instead as these were the sort of wine glasses someone might serve at a bad student party (apparently they were “specially designed” for the place, a triumph of design over utility). Oddly the wine list, while short, is well chosen and fairly priced e.g. Mas de Daumas Gassac white at £38 is not at all bad, and there are plenty of choices in the £20-£25 area. Peculiarly, they have a few coat-racks around the place and just dump people’s coats on these, yet there seems to be a downstairs cloakroom (perhaps this is reserved for the truly trendy). Overall, if I ignore the dismal service, coat neglect and wine glasses from hell, the food mostly works, though it is no yet as assured as the Ivy. They open all day, serving breakfast and afternoon tea as well as the usual meals.