Sunday, 13 December 2009
Review: The Wolsley, Piccadilly
I've always heard people mention The Wolsley but have never really known what or where it is. I vaguely assumed it was a hotel and had an idea it was on Piccadilly. So it actually came as something of a surprise to discover I have walked past it thousands of times without really noticing it. Far from being a hotel it is actually a former car showroom and bank and only actually opened as a cafe and restaurant in 2003. It says something to its success that it was nestled in my subconscious as a grand old establishment even though it's only recently celebrated its sixth birthday.
I visited on a Sunday for afternoon tea, and once inside it was even harder to believe that they had only been serving food and drink for a few years. It would be easy to imagine various crowned princes of Europe popping in for a cup of tea - but unless Wolsley Motors or Barclays Bank were extrememly accommodating they would have been out of luck.
Thankfully myself and Coffee Boy were not. I had booked a couple of weeks in advance and it was obvious why that was necessary - it was completely rammed. There is something of the air of an old-fashioned railway station cafe about the place - but in a good way! It is bustling and quite noisy thanks to the high ceilings, hard floors and abundance of marble and is certainly not the kind of place to go for a chilled, intimate afternoon. At first I wasn't sure how much I liked the frenetic pace but over the course of the afternoon it grew on me. We both went for the Afternoon Tea as we'd had no lunch and didn't plan on having much in the way of dinner. There was a selection of eight or nine teas and we both opted for the Wolsley Afternoon Blend which turned out to be a suitably robust but very refreshing cuppa. It came served in a wonderful Art Deco style silver teapot with a wooden handle. I took a few pictures but as they have a "no photography" policy I had to be somewhat surreptitious which means they aren't the best...
They were happy to accommodate our vegetarian/pescatarian needs and served us up five finger sandwiches each containing such delights as the classic smoked salmon and other more unusual fillings like cream cheese with sun dried tomatoes. Those set us up nicely for the sugar-fest that was to follow. And what a sugar-fest it was! We had mini-coffee eclairs; lemon & passionfruit tart; a delicious little cheesecake with nut brittle; a beautifully light raspberry macaroon; a very rich chocolate and coffee gâteaux; and what for me turned out to be the unexpected treat of the cakes, a slice of Battenburg. The quality of the cakes really was fantastic. Every single thing was full of flavour and beautifully presented. But as if all that wasn't enough we were also served 2 fruit scones with jam & clotted cream. Yes, regular readers, finally an establishment that understands that scones need fruit! And they weren't those little mini-scones that a lot of places serve up, these were full size and of the perfect consistency.
All round I really enjoyed tea at The Wolsley. The building is beautiful, the service was fast but good, and the quality of the food and tea was exemplary. And for £19.50 a head I didn't think it was that bad value - all things being relative of course, it's not the kind of place you'd go everyday but it's nice for a treat. As I said before, it doesn't have the kind of quiet, refined atmosphere that some of the posher hotels offer, but if you actually prefer the idea of somewhere with a bit of a buzz you could do a lot worse than giving The Wolsley a try. One thing's for sure - you won't go home hungry.