24 August 2017
Michelin-starred restaurants masquerading as pubs, and boozers with bistro-style menus: gastropubs come in myriad guises. Rather than be pigeonholed by the tricky portmanteau, The Wigmore, which opened on the corner of Regent Street last month, is being billed as a modern British ‘tavern’.
It all sounds faintly Dickensian, although the bar staff are unlikely to burst into rousing choruses of Oom-Pah-Pah. What was once a bank, and more recently the Chuan Spa of The Langham Hotel just next door, has been transformed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio into a veritable temple to the colour green. Every surface, from the impressive vaulted ceiling to the extravagant bar, has been coated in varying verdant hues. The place exudes a feeling of lived-in grandeur, complete with mohair velvet and silk cushioned banquettes, Art Deco style chandeliers and brass table lamps.
This sense of finesse continues in the kitchen, where Michel Roux Jr (who oversees Roux at The Landau, also next door) is in charge of the elevated pub grub. Meanwhile, the team behind the hotel’s award-winning Artesian bar has devised the drinks list, which dips into the history books. There are hoptails (think potent pilsner shandies laced with peach wine and fresh fruit), cups of punch and gin tônica’s served in bulbous glasses – try the refreshing Rives Special gin with rosemary, apple, anise and blackberry.
Craft beers and cask ales sit alongside the house brewed Saison, and a menu of fancy bar snacks. There aren’t any packets of salted peanuts, but there are stovetop cheese toasties served under cast iron presses to keep the cheese molten and bubbling; moreish buttered crumpets piled with steamed, lightly dressed cock crab; and – my favourite – masala-spiced scotch eggs. These resemble porcupines thanks to a covering of vermicelli pasta prickles, and sit in a puddle of fragrantly-spiced, utterly delicious dahl relish.
As for the mains, cheeseburgers are pimped with grilled ox-tongue and crispy shallots and the gammon and egg arrives with the traditional accompaniment of chips substituted for a huge pile of shoestring shavings, or ‘crisps’, Roux Jr-style. If it’s the real deal you’re after, though, order a side of the fluffy, fat chips with Bloody Mary salt (I end up stealing some from my friend’s plate as she struggles to finish her generously sized Hereford beef rump with peppercorn sauce).
The portion sizes are thankfully scaled down for dessert: a dainty dish of raspberry trifle and an indulgent dark chocolate and orange mousse topped with chocolate shards. Gastropub, tavern, whatever you want to call it: I wish The Wigmore was my local.