From Corbin and King, a swish, Midtown brasserie, which has the hallmarks of an instant in-crowd classic, even if its looks are less stunning than its stablemate, the Wolseley.
hat's in a name? Restaurant-maesters, Corbin & King's new Aldwych opening apparently follows in the footsteps of a turn-of-the century Gallic automobile marque (Delaunay-Belleville).
But whereas the moniker of their other car-brand - the Wolseley - exudes British-ness and evokes jovial Woosteresque japes, this new sibling (with a “The“ not a “La“) sounds more like a runabout for some Rockerfeller-era steel magnate.
And that's how it looks too: with its deep wood panelling, dark leather banquettes (so comfy!), marbled floor and subdued lighting, it would look more at home in some plush corner of Manhattan than in any Parisian arrondissement, however posh. It also seems instantly popular with the kind of besuited crowd who over lunch discuss pushing around companies with the same ease that they handle their knives and forks.
Hang on, though. The Wolseley this place certainly isn't - there's no exhilarating Edwardian architecture here. The ceiling's a bit low, and the proportions are a bit boxy. And the restrained style may strike some as simply unimaginative.
Our charming waitress politely enquired if we'd like to order. After a few fobbings off, the enquiries came with a fair amount of steely implication that it was now time to stop messing about. A 12.15 table can, after all, be turned at least once more during the lunch service...
The menu is very broad, and the mittel-European shtick (sorry “Café in the Grand European Tradition“) with which The Wolseley was launched is ladled on thicker here. Wiener or Schnitzel anyone? There's crustacea, caviar, savouries, sandwiches, plats du jour: and that's just from the all-day a la carte menu! (with separate menus for breakfast, afternoon tea and brunch).
Despite our waitress's impatience, our starters didn't arrive with undue haste. Chopped chicken salad with soft herbs (£9.50) was beautifully perky and fresh – a better choice than the baked romano pepper with spiced aubergine (£7.50), which resembled an OK result at a veggie friend's house.
It seemed rude not to have a schnitzel. It was warming, hearty, perfectly well made, but perhaps a reminder of why Austrian cuisine has failed to make waves globally: much of the interest came from the yummy accompaniment of sprouts with a creamy chestnut sauce. The calf's liver at £19.75 went down fine, but with little comment.
Sheiterhaufen (£7.50) with Calvados sauce was chosen largely for its splendid name, and was translated for us as, “like bread 'n' butter pudding“. Well sort of. Like the schnitzel it was crafted with care, deftly crisped, but veering towards the stodgy end of expectations.
Anything opened by Corbin & King suffers under the burden of humungous expectations, and to find a newcomer that looks so immaculately crafted and seemingly self-assured so soon after opening must be counted as another success for this dynamic duo. And its position, next to what was for many years ‘Bank’ is a reminder of the steady demand in 'Mid-town’ (between Theatreland and the City) for a swish, professional, all-hours brasserie that does a mean power breakfast.
Anyone expecting evident culinary fireworks or architectural electricity, however, might consider looking elsewhere though. The diecast of this metropolitan motor is so classic that excitement-hungry souls might find its handling a tad staid. The fast crowd, though, may come to adore it all the same.