The Wigmore, 15 Langham Place, London W1B 3DE (020 7965 0198). Toastie £ 13, snacks £ 5.50 to £ 7.75, main courses £ 14 to £ 16, dessert £ 5, beers from £ 5 a pint, wines from £ 28.50
Happiness is a well-made cheese toast. The XXL Stove Top 3 Cheese Toasts with mustard at Wigmore in London is much more than that. It’s happiness. It’s a beautifully crafted, exquisitely executed, browned and tanned homage to the carnal love story between toast and cheese. It wasn’t what I expected. The Wigmore, opened in 2017, is a pub as imagined by Michel Roux Jr du Gavroche, temple of French classicism, where greedy devotees will worship the gods of butter, cream and demi-glace. Le Gavroche is a sort of French embassy, but with better catering.
Could Le Roux culinaire really understand the culinary British side of a food pub? My answer is a firm yes, but with the keen sensitivity of a glutton. The Wigmore is an outcrop of the Langham Hotel, which is across from the BBC in Portland Place. Inside is a beautiful jade green wall and arch arch. There are tall marble counters, with steampunk style studs around the edges. There are light globes and frosted glass panels and bar stools covered in salty caramel-colored leather. Vital information: you can come here and just drink beers, many and various. They have casks from Thornbridge Lord Marples Bitter and Right to Roam Buxton, and casks from their own Wigmore Rosehip Saison brewed for them by Yonder. It really is a pub.
But I couldn’t be friends with, or even respect, someone who came here and did it without looking at the menu, and seeing the list of a toast, with its eye-catching price tag of £ 13, i wonder what the heck this was everything. It’s a foot long, but only if you are 24 feet tall. It is vast. The thinly sliced sourdough is clearly buttered before being essentially stovetop fried. Inside is a blend of Montgomery Cheddar, Ogleshield, and, for extra stretch, raclette. It is spun with fine diced red onion and spiced up with this mustard. Processed cheese oozes down the sides and crispy around the crusts.
It’s cut into seven manageable pieces, and I wonder momentarily if I could give up eating something else here today and just have this. I could very well do that. It’s well in my skills. I decide the £ 13 charge is not the outrage it might have seemed at first. When he does, I know I’ll have to leave some behind. So deep joy mingles with deep sadness. It is possible that too much of my emotions are invested in my lunch.
We have other things to eat. Among the snack list this toast is a part of is a trio of dollhouse-sized crumpets, buttered and topped with a pile of sweet white crabmeat nicely decorated with ribbons of dried seaweed. Each is an intense bite. There’s also their take on the Scottish Egg, and that’s really their take. It arrives looking like a grilled sea urchin. The spicy sausage ball, surrounding a candied yellow quail egg, was rolled not in breadcrumbs, but in vermicelli leaves. In contact with the hot oil, everything withstood a stickleback-like attention. It might be a bit boring in posture if it weren’t for the thick swirling dal pond of raita below. It lubricates and spices up the whole proposition.
The main course includes a serious piece of cheeseburger, in a large sunflower seed bun, with crispy shallots. A thick slice of grilled beef tongue rolls over the side of the bread like a piece of cloth that cannot be contained. I admire this burger very much when it goes in other people’s way, but don’t cry over my choices because there is a pie in my future. The pie culture in London has grown tremendously over the past few years, thanks in large part to the example set by the great Calum Franklin at the Holborn Dining Room. What this man can’t do with shortcrust pastry, egg wash and a bucket of ground pork isn’t worth knowing. The prepared, marked and frozen wonder served here stands up to them. As I cut, a tasty broth flows onto my plate. It’s filled with pieces of smoked pork and mandolin carrots. On the side is a quenelle of frozen field, the buttery puree generously threaded with spring onions. This is serious carb-on-carb action, in the best possible way. But remember: there are carrots in the pie. It’s the covered vegetable, right?
The clearest sign of the French background is the encouraging stone-grilled sea bass with crispy skin. It comes over a lake of peas and bacon, sprinkled with new potatoes, in a ripe butter emulsion of a sort the authors of Larousse Gastronomic would recognize and applaud. The Gallic turn is also found there in a magnificent salad accompanying leaves, alternately purple and red, green and yellow, arranged like the most beautiful flowers, in a vinaigrette speckled with chives. It’s a potent salad for £ 4.50.
There is only one dessert on offer, which they call the Wigmore Soft Serve Sundae. It costs £ 5 and changes regularly. Recently it was based on melba fishing. Today it’s a tiramisu sundae. Descend through curls of soft ice cream, layers of grated chocolate, and crunchy chocolate balls, and at the bottom you’ll find the required coffee-soaked sponge cake. It’s food to set off the rest of the day, and by mid-week lunchtime the room is happily full of people who clearly can’t remember what they’re supposed to do after 2:30 p.m.
To my left is a table of women who, for their lunch, have each ordered a toast and a side of crisps, with Bloody Mary salt. I admire their style and decide I should be more like them. Hear the call of the Wigmore Toastie. I later learn that from October 19, they are organizing what they call a Toastie Takeover. Three guest chefs – Andrew Wong from A Wong, Cyrus Todiwala from Namaste spiced coffee and Anna Haugh from Myrtle Restaurant – will each design a toast that will remain on the menu for four weeks. You can also eat one and support a good cause, as £ 1 of each sale will go to support Calm, the pioneering anti-suicide charity. Imagine: you can have the best toastie in London and do good. It’s a great day by anyone’s standards.
The sausages are coming. Extrawurst, a Bratwurst takeaway chain with 30 outlets in Germany, will open in the UK. They are planning “hundreds of locations” across the country over the next three years, both kiosks and larger outlets with some seating. It will start with three of the largest units in Birmingham, Nottingham and a shopping center in the West Midlands later this year, before expanding with the help of franchisees in 2022 (extrawurst.info).
Old Chef winner Kenny Tutt opened a second restaurant in his hometown of Worthing, to accompany Pitch, which he opened there in 2019. Bayside Social, which Tutt described as inspired by the art deco buildings of South Beach, Miami, is a casual seafood cafe on the promenade. The opening menu includes calamari in aioli, crab cakes in tomato sauce, and Baja fish tacos. There is also a menu for breakfast and brunch (baysidesocial.co.uk).
A support program for the hospitality sector has been launched in Northern Ireland. More than a million people are now eligible to apply for a Spend Local card, which will be preloaded with £ 100, for use in hospitality and retail locations until the end of November.
Chewing The Fat by Jay Rayner: Tasting Notes of a Gourmet Life, is now available. Buy it for £ 4.99 at guardbookshop.com