Ta­ble talk

Michael Dea­con at The Wig­more, Re­gent Street

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENTS - Michael Dea­con

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.

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