It's not often that a restaurant generates acres of column inches even before it opens, but it happened to the Wolseley before its launch in mid-November.
And now that it's up and running, the frenzy of media activity is even more intense. Every reviewer from every newspaper has been in, and the paparazzi are stationed outside the door nightly. Not surprising, with the likes of Michael Caine, Gwyneth Paltrow and numerous other assorted movie stars, pop stars and supermodels regularly pitching up to dine.
So what's the reason for the Wolseley's instant-hit status with pundits and celebrities alike? Very simply the answer lies in the names of its owners: Jeremy King and Christopher Corbin, the dynamic duo who founded the Ivy and Le Caprice and who also projected J Sheekey into the premier league of restaurants after taking it over.
Although the pair sold this trio of restaurants several years ago, their enthusiasm for the restaurant scene clearly hasn't ebbed, and the Wolseley marks their comeback. And they've been smart, too, in assembling a crack team around them.
David Loewi, ex-managing director of Conran Restaurants, is on board to assist with the management side of things, while Chris Galvin, former executive chef of Conran Restaurants, is in charge of the kitchens, ably assisted in the pastry department by Claire Clark, ex-head pastry chef of the Hilton London Metropole and Claridge's, London.
Considering all the assembled talent at work, the menu at first glance makes disappointing and dull reading. Indeed, little has been done in the way of appetising descriptions to get diners' taste-buds going. Rather, the starter selection proffers the straightforward likes of herring and potato salad (£5.25), chopped liver (£4.75) and leek and fontina cheese tart (£5.75).
Mains get no more fanfare in print, with moules frites (£9.50), Wiener schnitzel (£13.75) and Breton hot dog (£5.50) among the options.
However, it's worth persisting, as what ultimately arrives on the plate is universally expertly executed. A starter of five soft-boiled quails' eggs dribbled with a rich hollandaise sauce atop a crunchy croustade (£6.75) is perfectly portioned and utterly moreish. Meanwhile, a salad of prawn, crispy bacon and avocado (£14.75) reveals that the kitchen is taking the utmost care in sourcing ingredients: the prawns are large, plump and juicy and the bacon a good balance of flesh and fat.
Spit-roast suckling pig with pumpkin and oregano (£13.75) is topped with crackling so crisp that it shatters like porcelain, while the meat is succulent and full of flavour. A side order of celeriac mash (£3.50) similarly offers intense flavour and richness - clearly a generous hand has whipped plenty of cream in with the vegetable. The poached halibut with sauce nantaise (£16.50) is a similar hit: the fish cooked to perfection and the sauce a pleasant sharp-sweet balance.
Desserts betray that here is a pastry kitchen having fun and quite prepared to go over the top both with richness and flamboyant presentation. LiŠgois (£5.25) involves a huge portion of vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream topped with a decadent hot chocolate sauce and served in a tall glass. A sweet and nutty vacherin Mont Blanc (£6) involves light meringue smothered with lashings of cream and chestnut sauce.
Despite the excellent quality of the food, there are downsides to the experience. Service is highly inexperienced, and asking every five minutes (literally) if one has finished eating a course gives the clear impression that the restaurant is desperate to turn tables. Likewise, the high ceilings and barn-like openness of the room, with its resultant loud buzz and clattering, won't be to everyone's taste. Oenophiles will also find the wine list far too short for their liking.
But there's no doubt the Wolseley will succeed, and with lunch covers already averaging 160 and dinner covers running at 220, King and Corbin have no reason to lose any sleep. n
The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB. Tel: 020 7499 6996.
what's on the menu