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Food: Smart casual

28 January 2012

12:00 PM

28 January 2012

12:00 PM

Reviewing the Delaunay is like reviewing Nelson Mandela. You cannot be rude. This restaurant, a new sister for the ­Wolseley, is as Teflon-coated as David Cameron’s head. And it is very similar to the Wolseley, which was also slobberingly reviewed because people think of it as foreign, but good foreign, which means pastries, not immigrants, and the German army, not the French. ‘Alert diners might well catch a glimpse of, among others, the authors Harold Pinter and Lady Antonia Fraser,’ wrote the New York Times chillingly, as if that were a good thing. Its ceilings are lower, its draft broader but the lamps and the tablecloths, the cakes and the cutlery are all the same as the Wolseley. It manages the amazing feat of impersonating continental café chic in a country where people do not speak to each other.

It lives on the Edwardian crescent of the Aldwych, near enough to smell the river. Like all clever restaurants it feels established, as if it had witnessed the Anschluss and spent the day spraying cream at things. It is not snotty, despite the doormen in silly hats performing signs at taxis; there will be no repeat of my visit to Wiltons, where I crawled on my hands and knees to retrieve some jewellery through sheer class anxiety. The menu is too large and foreign, the people too normal looking. But normal people used to go to the Wolseley, and now it is all actors cackling about weight loss and Beckett. I see no stars from my banquette, although the waiter says the ­Beckhams came last week, presumably to binge on ice cubes. I do see lots of people who look like famous people — a Joanna Lumley, a Theresa May, an Una Stubbs. It is therefore a convention of slightly interesting lookalikes, not, as Time Out moronically suggested, a restaurant with ‘a grandeur that brings to mind… intellectual gatherings’. My companion, who worships at the shrine of cynicism, likes it. ‘Although it is a tiny bit Pete Waterman,’ she says. It feels 1980s, and the 1980s were the last time London felt uncomplicatedly happy, although history tells it was not happy, merely simple.


The menu is enormous and because it looks like a diner menu written in an insane woman’s calligraphy, it seems cheaper than it really is. I would call it Austrian, with seafood and eggs. There are two things the Austrians do really well — incest and cake. If it has a vibe, it is a better-looking Sigmund Freud eating a boiled egg and being fabulous. His grandson, the recently dead Lucian, who ate at the Wolseley when he wasn’t painting disgust, has a sundae named after him, which here they call a coupe. This fact needs no analysis. We have prawn cocktail, a strange, tomato-less pizza with bacon, frankfurters, potato salad and ice cream. The prawns sing out of a silver dish like the cast of Fame! and the lumps of pig glow pleasingly. It is all excellent and easy on the stomach but that is not the point of the Delaunay. It is a smart restaurant that feels relaxed; any refugees from the nearby Lion King will not feel they detract from the non-existent scent of ‘intellectual gatherings’.

I am terrified that nothing interesting will happen. But thankfully a beautiful woman is sitting at the next table with a man who looks like a thin Rob Brydon. Her breasts are exploding out of her dress and we wait, horribly, for the nipples. ‘She must be a prostitute,’ says my companion, ‘he is so ugly. He is Swiss.’ I offer to approach and ask if she is a member of the Pussycat Dolls, as a ruse to gather more information. My companion says no because this is a very civilised place where even I cannot imagine being eaten by dinosaurs.

The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB, tel: 020 7499 8558.


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