Mr R.E. breakfasts at The Wolseley...

My guest today suggests we meet at the Wolseley, a venue I have been to before, but only because of its proximity to Green Park tube station.  The favourite haunt of footballers, politicians, hedge fund managers, tourists and journalists, it inspired A.A.Gill to create his book Breakfast at The Wolseley.  The Wolseley quotes Gill's introduction on their web site, he writes "Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life".  I wholly subscribe to this.

The Wolseley is so named after Wolseley Motors Limited commissioned a car showroom in 1921. However, the Italian architecture, marble floors and grand setting, did not do enough to stop the company going bankrupt in 1926. Between 1927 and 2003 it was a branch of Barclays Bank, until Chris Corbin and Jeremy King turned into the venue it is today.  Previously at Caprice Holdings, and now Rex Restaurant Associates, Messrs Corbin and King do have an eye for a commercial opportunity.

Walking into the dining space itself, it's a picture of frenetic activity, a loud hubbub of conversation and of business being done.  One immediately thinks of an old railway station café, or worse given the closeness of the tables, the layout looks like a speed dating venue.

I order a fresh grapefruit juice and cappuccino. Within five minutes the drinks arrive and I order The English, with my eggs poached.  In the times I have been here, I will say, this venue has the best cappuccino of any I've had before.  Beautifully presented with a heart shaped chocolate flourish in the foam, the right temperature and creamy consistency, I always have more than one and this time is no exception.

The English duly arrives and I realise I hadn't spotted it included baked beans. Now, I do occasionally like baked beans, but they overpower everything else in terms of taste - everything tastes of beans. There is also half a tomato, a mushroom, two poached eggs, a Cumberland sausage, a piece of black pudding (about a quarter of a sausage of black pudding), and several rashers of bacon.

I try the black pudding first as there's such a small amount.  It falls apart on the first touch, so is difficult to eat on its own.  However, is does have a strong flavour and is very moist, but it needs to be more substantial to get a true sense of it. The eggs are strangely inconsistent: one is cooked perfectly as a medium egg with a nice runny yolk, but the other overdone with a solid centre; the sausage looks good, but lacks any real flavour other than meat; there's a perfectly cooked mushroom, not too soggy, firm and tasty; and the bacon is slightly burnt, adding some level of caramelisation to it.  It's nicely smoked, with a salty flavour, which I liked a lot. I leave the tomato, as I always do - cooked tomato is one of my pet hates.

The plates are cleared immediately and we're asked if we would like anything else.  I suspect this is to encourage us to move on, as the restaurant is now at capacity. I order the bill and it's settled very efficiently. Forty minutes from the time of entering, to the time I'm back outside on the pavement needing a short walk to clear the indigestion. An old Tommy Cooper joke comes to mind: 'Two giants sitting on a wall, one says 'I ate a clown for breakfast this morning, I feel a bit funny now!'.

Clement Freud once said, 'Breakfast is a notoriously difficult meal to serve with a flourish.' I don't necessarily agree: I think that the experience is down to well-prepared, high-quality ingredients, in relaxed and ambient surroundings. The Wolseley has everything in terms of ingredients, but you do get the impression of hurried preparation in line with the hustle and bustle of the restaurant itself.  

I subscribe to AA Gill's sentiments about breakfast, but I just can't marry those comments to the indigestion induced speed with which The Wolseley deals with its clientele.  This is rather ironic given the quote is on The Wolseley's own breakfast webpage, but it should be no surprise really, given that they turn around 1,000 covers a day.  No doubt I will return, as it's in a great location, but next time perhaps for just the continental breakfast or fruit bowl I think.

The Wolseley
160 Piccadilly

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