It’s easy to be suspicious of The Wigmore. A pub in The Langham overseen (as all the hotel’s culinary offerings are) by Michel Roux Jr., with high ceilings, a curtained entry, greetings at the door, on one of London’s brightest streets. It all seems a bit incongruous.
But walking to the table through the pleasantly tight atmosphere, past the dark wood, heavy green ceilings and the grand bar – which has an almost Catholic severity – these fears melt away. And the resulting harmonious combination fittingly reflects The Wigmore’s signature dish, a vast cheese toastie featuring Montgomery Cheddar, Ogleshield and Raclette alongside Dijon mustard, red onion, cornichons and chives. Sweet, greasy, buttery, crunchy, it’s a sublime, almost terrifying sandwich; the size more than justifying its £13 price tag (I know).
This dish has become so popular since The Wigmore’s opening in 2017 that for the next three months (until January 8) Michel Roux Jr. has invited chefs Andrew Wong, Cyrus Todiwala and Anna Haugh to bring their own signature version. Each iteration will be served for a month with some of the proceeds donated to the mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).
Andrew Wong’s crab and black pepper ketchup toastie captures, in a delicate package, this Singaporean dish which is spicy, aromatic and unusual – rarely in western cooking do we get such a heavy use of black pepper, which doesn’t really occur to us as a spice. It’s almost a seafood Mille-fueille but still recognisably a toastie. As of November 16 it will be the turn of Cyrus Todiwala.
Every so often my mother used to wheel out an old sandwich press. The white plastic machine would be placed on the counter and left to heat up for several minutes; never touch we were always told. Brown bread, ham, Edam, butter on the outside – the result had crimped edges, almost crust-less with scorched trenches on the bread. Scalding hot, slices of ham falling out whole and always ketchup.
Always ketchup to the extent that when our food arrives at The Wigmore I almost ask for some but bite my tongue remembering where I am. Everyone has a memory of a cheese toastie – greasy fingers, crumbs falling like snow or that first juvenile outing with a frying pan. So it’s a tall order to base a menu around this dish but a masterstroke to get it right.
So what else? There’s the Scotch egg coated in a kind of crispy vermicelli which resembles a hedgehog after a strong coffee. It sits atop a sweet, spiced daal which the egg collapses into. The dish is not something I knew I needed but it has altered my perception of Scotch eggs. There are also fat chips with Bloody Mary Salt (which tastes like a Bloody Mary) and a delicate beetroot salad takes the strain off our groaning table.
Mains drift around the dining room from lamb pie; to a cheeseburger draped with ox tongue; steamed sea bream, braised peas and ham; and soy-glazed chicken sitting happily in a bun with pickled-cabbage and sweet chilli fries. This is the kind of place where a concise menu suggests the confidence expected from someone as accomplished as Michel Roux Jr. The drinks list, however, is extensive (but crucially not exhaustive) rather than concise. There’s a selection of beers, wines, classic cocktails, hoptails (cocktails with beer) and punch.
The atmosphere is convivial. It’s one of those restaurants (thankfully) where the conversation is louder than the music. My dining companion likes cows, she tells me fluffy Highland Cattle must be given Gaelic names and Canach (for a girl, of course), translates to Bog Cotton. There’s also a farmer in the Tamar Valley who schedules his year according to when the salmon start running up the river. This piques my interest as I’m reading a book about salmon. I can hear all of this because there is no muzak – over the course of the evening I just about detect Waterfall by the Stone Roses, Golden Years by David Bowie and Burning Down the House by Talking Heads. Looking around people seem happy to be able to talk to each other – I don’t see any miserable faces squinting at menus obscured by subterranean lighting and drearily sucking at another glass of whatever from wherever.
Late in the meal, when I almost send an empty wine glass cartwheeling across the space a waitress plucks it from danger with a smile.
It might seem absurd to wax lyrical about a pub – a scotch egg; some fat chips; a couple of toasties; a cold pint of hoppy, fruity, deft ale; a good bottle of wine – but food doesn’t need to be difficult to be brilliant. And The Wigmore demonstrates that better than almost anywhere I have been in London.
The Wigmore can be found at 15 Langham Pl, London W1B 3DE.
Related: Review: A perfect lunch at A.Wong