Starting with Le Caprice in 1981, Jeremy King and Christopher Corbin built up one of London’s most impressive restaurant empires of recent times. By the time they finally exited in 2002 – several million pounds richer – the group included no fewer than three of the five most popular restaurants in town (The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey).
How to follow such an act? The answer turned out to The Wolseley. Occupying a vast Edwardian building near the Ritz – built as a showroom for Wolseley Motors, but for most of the last century a grand Barclay’s Bank – the place was certainly a ‘wow’ when, two years ago, it opened for business. London’s dining public, after all, is unaccustomed to grandeur. Was this our answer to New York’s Four Seasons, or Paris’s Train Bleu? The newcomer certainly gave the initial impression that it might be a fit emblem for a city with pretensions to being the restaurant capital of the world. And if the food and service were a bit up-and-down – well, hey, it was early days.
It is no longer early days. True, the place is still hailed in some circles as something of a glamour destination, but standards of food and service over the past two years – as recorded by our surveys – have never risen much above good-to-middling. More worryingly, they have seemed, if anything, to be on a downwards path. If our recent meal is anything to go by, this slide continues.
Our first impression was in fact a non-impression. No Corbin or King. In most restaurants, you neither notice nor care if the gaffers are absent. Here you do, as it’s part of the ‘package’. It wouldn’t really have mattered so much if the service had been any good, but, while pleasant, staff were often absent (or, if present, oblivious to customer needs). On the food front too, something was not quite there, in one case literally – partridge with bacon, the special of the day, was (inexplicably) served as partridge without bacon. It made a good emblem for a meal that rarely rose above mundane. Despite the architectural richness, that ambience similarly lacked pizzazz.
Including a couple of (very good) martinis, and a (rather disappointing) bottle of Dao (£45), the bill for two mounted to no less than £150 (including tip). So it was a good thing we knew we had enjoyed what is still sometimes tipped as one of London’s great restaurant experiences. Otherwise, we might just have felt rather ripped off.