Tom Parker Bowles & Olly Smith: lunch at The Wolseley and picnic bargains

Tom rejoices as he returns to indoor dining at one of the capital’s most atmospheric establishments.

To walk into The Wolseley is to slide, seamlessly, into another world, a place where the irks and indignities of normal life are shaken away like raindrops from an umbrella. Because this is restaurant as pure theatre, a spectacle as much as a lunch, with its vast and ever-moving cast of doormen and greeters, maître d’s, waiters, barmen and boss.

‘While you don’t necessarily come to The Wolseley for the food alone, there’s always something you want… comfort as a class act.’ Image: David Loftus

The boss being Jeremy King, one half of restaurateurs Corbin and King, tall and immaculately clad, effortlessly gliding through the tables. A nod here, a word there, but one eye eternally on the rest of the room – one of the most handsome in London, if not the world, with its soaring ceiling, thrusting columns and polished marble sheen. Nothing misses his gaze.

There’s no place for snobbery here, and despite its starry reputation, The Wolseley is refreshingly democratic. You can wander in for morning porridge and coffee or stagger out at midnight after a beluga feast.

That’s the joy of the place, along with the eternal buzz, hum, hubbub and clatter, fuelled by endless gossip and brokered deals, the whispered sweet nothings, clandestine affairs (nowhere more discreet than the least discreet place on Earth) and endless celebrations of every hue. It has an atmosphere so rich and thick you could spread it over their warm, crusty baguettes; and after that first icy martini, you fall easily into its warm embrace.

And while you don’t necessarily come to The Wolseley for the food alone, there’s always something you want. I know its menu like the keyboard of my computer: a dozen quivering Colchester rocks, or a quarter pint of pink prawns. Smoked salmon, finely sliced, from Severn and Wye, or an intense chicken soup with bouncy, joyously bland mini matzo balls. Maybe a burger, or rarebit, schnitzel, choucroute or chateaubriand. Sometimes the food should not get in the way of the talk.

Which is why we come here, Jo Elvin, Olly and me, for our first indoor lunch for five months. We eat sweet, tiny queenie scallops in the shell, smoked haddock Monte Carlo, schnitzel, chopped chicken salad and fistfuls of hot, salty fries.

It is as it always is, comfort as a class act. All around us, bread is broken, wine slurped and old acquaintances renewed. London is alive once more.

Drinks: Olly’s picnic bargains

For picnics, save money by buying wine in a bigger format. You may feel you’re splashing out with my five-litre box rosé but the equivalent works out at around a tenner a bottle. It’s spot-on for a picnic and saves you clanking around heavy bottles. For reds, keep it light with Pinot Noir; feel free to chill it to focus fruitiness. And always pack a cider – with sausage rolls, pork pies and scotch eggs, nothing beats.

Drink of the week

FOUND FETEASCA REGALA 2020 (11.5%), £7, M&S. Unbeatable value for a white as scented as a rosé. Utterly divine.

PULPT FLARE SUPERIOR SOUTH WEST CIDER (4.9%), £2.20, Tesco. Delicious cider with wholesome freshness and real appley bite.

PAUL MAS RESERVE PINOT NOIR 2020 (13%), £8.75, Morrisons. Soft, light red that’s
bafflingly brilliant for under a tenner.

FITZ PRINCE CHARMAT (12%), £14.99, Majestic. Made in the same way as Prosecco, this vibrant British bubbly is ace.

MÉDITERRANÉE ROSÉ FIGUIÈRE 2020 (12%), £65, Sumptuous, scrumptious, delicate: picnic perfection is this breezy rosé.