Christopher Jackson enjoys a good old-fashioned literary lunch in the heart of London
Corbin King. In this day and age, the brand has impossibly disparate associations – of the monarchy on the one hand, and a return to a (slightly misspelt) socialism which would make Michael Foot look Blairite on the other.
One cannot deny that the group – which also comprises the Wolseley – is recognisable. These are exciting restaurants, known for attentive service: a place where the glass is filled without your noticing, and your individual want is mysteriously catered to amid a surrounding din. I attended on a Wednesday, and there was an additional sense of people vindicated sufficiently in their life choices to be able to kick back for no particular reason at lunchtime mid-week.
The restaurant is positioned on Aldwych, with the Royal Courts of Justice on the one side, the Strand on the other and the mixed possibilities of theatreland to the north. Neither close enough to the river to receive its blessings nor really near enough to Mayfair to benefit from those associations, it instead has the feel of being somewhat marooned on the corner of two main roads.
It’s impressive then to have created such atmosphere within. The walnut panelling suggests opulence without actually being opulent. It’s the hard floors which create such considerable noise: the interior is full of people trying to say interesting things at the decibel level of Pavarotti at the climax of ‘Nessun Dorma’. Somehow it doesn’t matter: one’s sense of fun is in play.
We were seated in the centre of the room. Soon enough, a waitress descended to take our drinks order: a civilising glass of wine apiece. We cheersed, reiterated our opposition to Brexit, and then examined the menu.
For starters, feeling decadent, and vaguely remembering some oysters I’d once had in 67 Pall Mall, I opted for the Morecombe Bay Rock variety. My companion, explaining that from her perspective oysters were not to be eaten except under the most extreme duress, went with the mixed beetroot and avocado tartare, whose partying colours and delicate pinch she enjoyed greatly.
Meanwhile, my oysters came with all the usual accoutrements on a theatrically high oyster-plate but were perhaps a bit stringy, and had to be scraped off the shell. An oyster should ideally be in a hurry.
My companion began to extol the service just at the moment when they were forgetting to bring us our second glass of wine with our main. But this lapse was only the exception that proved the rule. It’s agreeable, for instance, that when a glass is ordered, the staff bring the bottle to your table, so that one knows precisely what one is being served.
In a phase of worrying about the historic cholesterol implications of all the red meat I’ve had, I have entered a virtuous fish phase. Though the Delaunay is particularly known for its schnitzel, something about the layout of the menu – it’s neat and confident density – gave me sufficient confidence to order the roast pavé of cod.
This was nicely cooked – though slightly on the dry side – and flaked away agreeably to reveal a soft bed of ratté potatoes and a sea vegetable salad. My companion opted for the Dorset crab. The amount of meat was perhaps a little stingy, but it had just the right particularity – not unhappily doused in mayonnaise as can happen on certain evil occasions at other restaurants.
These restaurants perhaps have something in common with the Ivy: one is never given food of the highest imagination, but then, that is not the intention. Instead it’s good middlebrow fare, in the context of a convivial atmosphere. There’s nothing wrong with that: I’ve had more memorably sociable times in these sorts of places than at star restaurants where there’s not time to converse because one is obliged to murmur homage to the food.
Christopher Jackson is deputy editor of Spear’s