“I didn’t book anything; I thought that way we’d have more options” are crushing words if you hear them – as we did – standing, hungry and so very thirsty, on a street corner in Mayfair at 12:30 on a busy Saturday afternoon. We’d met-up with the idiot responsible for uttering them at Omega on Bond Street to pick up his vintage Seamaster (freshly back from their watchmaker’s after an incredibly successful three month restoration job…but that’s a whole other post). The deal we’d struck with Spanky (let’s call him that – because it is in fact his name) weeks earlier was straightforward enough: we would pay for the work to his watch and, in return, he would buy us lunch: a fair if not completely equitable arrangement.
So, it was with huge anticipation that, upon emerging from the Omega store, we turned to our old friend and enquired where he’d reserved for lunch. We’d been thinking about it on the way into town that morning: Spanky is a bon vivant of the old-school, straight from the Prodigal mould, so we had high hopes. A table in the window at Cecconi’s perhaps? A tasting menu at The Square? Maybe a couple of seats at the oyster bar at Scott’s? But no, what we got was: “I didn’t book anything; I thought that way we’d have more options.” Well, Spanky, we’re here to tell you that, at lunchtime, on a Saturday, in Mayfair, if you don’t have a reservation then what you have is the opposite of options.
We were in trouble. We knew it. It was clear that we’d need to take control of the situation and fast. In a crisis, your adrenaline starts flowing and instinct just kicks in. It’s the training. You never forget. Without thinking, we headed for the nearest and most reliable gastronomic sanctuary we knew of. We headed straight to The Wolseley.
The Wolseley has been a firm favourite of ours since our first visit, shortly after Corbin and King opened it in November 2003. The only problem is, it’s been a firm favourite of, eh, everyone else too. As a result, we’ve never really thought to review it on The Guide (what’s the point, when AA Gill, the great man himself, has literally already written the book on it) nor did we expect to get a table without a reservation that desperate Saturday afternoon.
It turns out we were wrong on both counts. We did get a table. And the time we spent there convinced us that The Wolseley certainly is worth writing about in these pages, not least because we think we’ve finally put our finger on what makes it so special to us: the immaculate service.
Good service – we mean really good service – is a tough act to pull off. The George V is perhaps the benchmark in our book. When we blogged about our stay there we wrote:
The staff are always so perfectly judged. They appear to have a super-human ability to anticipate your mood, your needs, your wants. They’re never too formal, never pretentious or fussy, never less than completely welcoming and accommodating. And they manage to pull this off while always seeming completely genuine. There is nothing rehearsed or contrived about the way they deliver the very best service in the world. It all adds up to making you feel very special indeed
The Wolseley delivers that magic too.
As you walk through the front doors, the welcome desk is in front of you to the right. Behind you to your left, is a little table for two nestled between a wall and the main doors. It looks cramped. It’s out of sight. It’s where we remember the umbrella stand being in the past. No doubt about it, if The Wolseley has a Siberia, this is surely it. It was also the only table left and we gladly, gratefully took possession.
That’s when Miriam Leigh, our waitress, appeared. Miriam embodies the high-standards of service that The Wolseley is rightly famous for. She is an absolute delight. We’ve been lucky enough to be looked after by her in the past and so can vouch for her consistency. She’s cheerful, personable and flexible (she handled Spanky’s incessant cigarette breaks so deftly, it was a joy to behold.)
We had a great lunch and – though The Wolseley’s comfort food (the duck confit was a highlight) is always a pleasure and the room’s inimitable grandeur always a treat – it was Miriam’s skilful service that really made it so. She joked with us without being over-familiar, she always appeared pre-emptively before we even knew we wanted anything, and all the while she made us feel like we were her favourite customers. No doubt, the tables next to us felt exactly the same.
Emboldened by our superb treatment over lunch and our judgement sharpened by the two bottles of house wine we’d managed to put away, we reached the only logical conclusion: we had been elevated to the ranks of the aristocracy. How else to celebrate our new-found nobility than with a couple of Martinis at Duke’s? We thanked Miriam and prepared to head out into Piccadilly.
As we said our goodbyes, Miriam told us she’s enrolled on a hotel management course and aspires to manage her own restaurant some day. We look forward to it; the lady could warm up Siberia.
The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB, Tel: +44 20 7499 6996
Siberia is positively warm at The Wolseley
Having long thought that there was nothing left to say about The Wolseley, a last-minute lunch there reminds us of why we love it: the effortlessly slick service.
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Our founder and publisher, the self-proclaimed "greatest wit, raconteur and bon vivant of our age", borders on delusional. Over the years, The Fool has squandered more money on fast cars, Swiss watches and electronic gadgetry of all kinds than he – or his bank manager – cares to remember. Come nightfall, he can invariably be found stumbling out of Dukes mumbling “just one more Martini; I could have handled just one mmmmm… [thud!]”
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