Malcolm Jolley likes a dish with just three things.
Apparently there has been an avocado craze lately in London. Or so I ascertained by an alarming Op-Ed published recently in the Guardian called ‘Can hipsters stomach the unpalatable truth about avocado toast?‘. While I’m not sure this Gen Xer could handle more than a white lie about avocado toast, I did have an epiphany of sorts over a plate holding one well ripe avocado at one of London’s better known restaurants, The Wolsesley on Piccadilly. And it stirred me to write what follows.
The Wolseley opened in 2003 and is part of an upscale group of London restaurants owned and managed by Chris Corbin and Jeremy King. The pair had made their name for themselves previously at The Ivy. It’s housed in a beautiful, towering ceiling building next to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, more or less at the south end of super-luxe shopping on New and Old Bond Streets. There are linens, proper silverware and good stemware. A.A. Gill wrote their cookbook. It’s fancy, but not exhorbitant, and it seems to do well on a mix of wealthy tourists and locals, including men wearing red trousers, who graze off a menu with a lot of things on it. Having walked by many times since it opened, I had always been curious about it. I wanted to check out the room and the people in it. I figured the food would be fine, if bland in the way that food that caters to the rich often is (they’re all on diets).
As it happened, on this last and latest trip to London, fate took me and my wife to the Wolsley’s doorway. Fate being the new exhibit of David Hockney portraits at The Royal Academy, which is just across Picadilly from the restaurant. I cajoled a skeptical Apple into the Wolsley and we lunched with the best of the ladies and gentlemen. My wife’s skepticism turned out to be well founded (she’s usually right) and it turned out that we had an okay lunch that wasn’t very well cooked (a hard poached egg) and that took too long because of a few Faulty Towers service moments. But before things went, as the Brits say, pear shaped, the Wolsley kitchen did manage to put out a lovely dish of avocado vinaigrette.
What, I guess, a restaurant like The Wolesley has, that others struggle to acquire, is confidence. They have the confidence, for instance, to plate an ￡8.50 Avocado Vinaigrette with just three things: an avocado cut into quarters, a loose bed of mâche lettuce, and the vinaigrette. (Yes, the vinaigrette is actually a few things, but not too many: olive oil, tarragon, seasoning, and vinegar (my guess was Champagne). That’s the kind of confidence which results in something very near perfection. If there is a Platonic ideal of an avocado salad, it’s to be found at the Wolseley. A less confident kitchen would, again as the Brits say, cock it up. Added would be pomegranate seeds, or samphire, or ras al hanout mixed into the dressing, or even a few thin slices of red onion. Less sometimes truly is more. And it’s a pleasure to be reminded of that with a simple and delicious dish.
I probably won’t go back to the Wolsley because there are too many other London restaurants beckoning, but I will happily steal their Avocado Vinaigrette recipe.