Michael Deacon at The Wigmore, Regent Street
PRIVILEGED AS THEY ARE to be on first-name terms with a gourmet of such illustrious pedigree, my friends occasionally ask me to recommend a restaurant. In a couple of months, they humbly ex plain, it ’s their wedding anniversary, or their mother ’s birthday, and they would very much like to book somewhere special. Somewhere that stands out. Somewhere that dazzles even the jaded palate of the broadsheet critic.
‘Hmm,’ I’ll muse, with a magisterial steepling of the fingers. ‘Have you tried Wetherspoon’s?’
I love Wetherspoon’s. The variety, the efficiency, the portions, the prices… It’s great. Particularly if you’re a parent, because unlike any other restaurant, it offers loads of room for a) parking your pushchair, and b) your toddler to run around squealing without the rest of the clientele attempting to strangle him. On Saturday lunchtime it basically becomes a massive crèche with booze and chips.
Not only that, though: some of the food is really good. That rarebit burger they do: outstanding. Last November, for my birthday, my wife took me to Wetherspoon’s and ordered me the rarebit burger with bacon, doubled up for an extra pound, and I can say hand on heart that it was one of the most enjoyable dinners I had all year. Admittedly I’d been up for 36 hours straight covering the US presidential election result, so I may have been ever so slightly delirious, and indeed drunk,
but whatever; I stand by my verdict. I loved it. Hooray for cheap, salty, greasy, fatty, revoltingly delicious pub food.
It’s not easy to get right, that kind of thing. I know, because one of the most acclaimed chefs in Britain is currently attempting it . Michel Roux Jr – the Michelin-starred magician behind Le Gavroche – has created the menu for a new gastropub: The Wigmore, in London. It does all manner of traditional pub dishes – but each comes with a fancy, fine-dining twist.
From the outside, it must be said, The Wigmore doesn’t look like a pub. In fact, it looks more like a bank. An oldfashioned, exclusive sort of bank. I’d be surprised if many passers-by pop in on impulse for a quick pint. And if they do, they might feel mildly unnerved, because on the inside it’s rather grand. Tasselled lamps; plump banquettes; lofty ceiling; walls a stern locomotive green. Everything looks solid, weighty, lordly. The problem is that it ’s all so sparklingly new. A place like this needs to feel worn and lived-in. Arguably I’m reviewing The Wigmore to o so on. Eighty years too soon.
I suppose it would be presumptuous, though, to count on keeping this job until I’m 116, so we’ll press on. The food, as I was saying, is a smarty-pants reimagining of normal pub grub, and no dish better exemplifies this approach than my starter: the Scotch eggs.
Now, everyone knows what a Scotch egg is like. It’s a burp trapped in breadcrumbs. But not at The Wigmore. These didn’t even look like Scotch eggs. They looked… hairy. Big, round, brown, and hairy. Side by side they sat, the pair of them, like something unmentionable lopped off a yak.
The hair turned out to be strands of vermicelli pasta. I took a bite. Prickly – followed by a warm squirt of yolk from a quail’s egg. Yes, a quail’s egg. I was almost surprised to find that the meat used was pork – rather than, say, sautéed unicorn.
My wife, meanwhile, was goggling at her toastie. The menu had listed it as a mere ‘snack’. It was about the size of an ironing board. Still, it tasted good: molten cheese, lavishly thick, scattered with red onion and gherkin.
Also among the snacks were the oxtongue potatoes. Thin, gnarled, witchy fingers of layered potato, each a good foot long, and accompanied by a dip of anchovy sauce. They were shatteringly crisp and blisteringly salty.
Odder still, though, was my main. It was listed, innocently enough, as gam- mon, egg and crisps. The crisps, however, had been spiralised into an enormous ye l l o w y ta n g l e , ob s c u r i n g virtually everything else on the plate. I hacked my way through it, like an explorer through jungle, until I eventually stumbled upon the gammon. I soon wished I hadn’t. It was slathered in a squirmingly sweet glaze.
I’m not saying I didn’t like The Wigmore. Each dish was at the very least interesting, the yak’s unmentionables were nice, and my pudding – a Dulceychocolate soft serve – was gorgeously, scandalously creamy.
But something about the overall concept made me faintly uneasy. It felt like a parody. A spoof. A satire of workingclass food. As if we were meant to find it funny. Scotch eggs – but with the poshest ingredients imaginable. Quail’s eggs! Vermicelli! No, you won’t find these in some grotty service station!
And even if it wasn’t meant in that spirit, there is – as I said in my review of Magpie – a limit to how much tinkering I can tolerate. Much as I appreciate the imagination that went into this menu, I do like chips just to be chips. Not, for no clear reason, to be dusted in something that makes them taste like Tangy Toms, the horrible tomato-flavoured playground snack from the 1980s.
Wetherspoon’s wouldn’t do that . Wetherspoon’s knows.
Everyone knows what a Scotch egg is like. It’s a burp trapped in breadcrumbs
Below Gammon, egg and crisps with sriracha mayonnaise
Above The Wigmore’s Scotch eggs, served with a dal relish.