Christopher Hirst is impressed by the scale and style of the Delaunay
Usually you can love or hate a restaurant at first sight but sometimes it takes two or more visits to get the full gauge of a place. From my first visit to the Delaunay, shortly after it opened in 2012, I can recall little other than the immaculate Edwardian simulacrum created by the perfectionist restaurateurs Corbyn and King. Installed in the cream and mahogany grandeur of The Delaunay, the diner is unshakably persuaded that the restaurant dates from around 1908.
A return visit after four and a half years for a morning confab with colleagues reminded me of The Delaunay’s other admirable qualities. The generous space between tables, which accounts for its popularity as a meeting spot for the budding entrepreneurs of Kingsway (the LSE is at the back of the restaurant), is surely unequalled in central London. The service is from the bustling regiment of staff is nothing less than Jeevesian. When we decided to stay on for an early lunch, I was happily reminded that the food from the all-day brasserie is well-crafted if undramatic and, as long as you avoid the star items on the menu, fairly reasonably priced.
The Delaunay’s offering is eclectic bordering on the eccentric. Most of the dishes might have emerged from the kitchen of a superior Viennese Kaffe Klatsch but the Wurstchen (sausages), Schnitzels and Konditorei (cakes) are augmented by offerings more commonly associated with a New York diner or a St James gentlemen’s club. The shrouding of the tables in lovely thick linen signalled the arrival of the lunch hour and the putative magnates eking out their seed capital were replaced by real execs with well-stocked expense accounts. The flotilla of tables dotted about the huge, square room rapidly filled.
Head for the southern end of the menu and you can notch up a startling expense claim with Wiener Schnitzel with anchovy and fried egg at £27.50, fillet steak with roast parsnips at £34 or halibut with keta caviar at £35. Such knee-weakening prices (not forgetting the £2 per head cover charge and 12.5 per cent service) make the Delaunay one of the most expensive joints in London for a blow-out but Corbyn and King recognise the essentially democratic nature of the brasserie. The Delaunay is open to anyone, however modest their funds. Even if your order is limited to roast parsnip soup (£6.75) you get as much space around your table (the real luxury of The Delaunay) as plutocrats ordering the Sunday special of roast fore-rib of beef at £25 per head (vegetables extra).
Stay in the middle reaches of the menu and you can be heartily replenished with a choice of six homemade sausages ranging from a smoked beef frankfurter (£12.75) to wild boar and venison (£15.75). Possibly the proximity of India House, just across Aldwych, explained why so many patrons plumped for the gleaming risotto-like kedgeree topped with a poached egg (£14.25) though the goujons of plaice with chips at £19.50 also had many takers.
Since our impromptu lunch started out as a coffee meeting, we headed for the polar north of the menu. Among the hors d’oeuvres, the New York hot dog with fries had the merit of economy at £7 though it proved a bit odd. I don’t remember the dogs at Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs on Broadway being spiked with cumin. There was also too much bread – or was it brioche? – enfolding the sausage. For an example of the ideal bread:frankfurter ratio, Messrs Corbyn and King should visit their nearest IKEA and lash out 60p on a hot dog.
Eggs Arlington, which is Eggs Benedict enhanced by a delicately folded ripple of smoked salmon, elicited applause for a perfectly poached egg and carefully composed Hollandaise. My only quibble was with the name, which, strictly speaking, should have been in the singular. To be pedantic you get egg Arlington for £10.50. For eggs Arlington, you have to unbutton exactly twice as much.
We’d reached the pud stage when another hors d’oeuvre caught my eye. ‘But we only came in for coffee,’ groaned my colleagues. Still, I’m glad that greed pushed me towards devilled duck livers on toast. The mighty pile of succulent pink slices given piquancy by shallots and Worcester sauce was a meal in itself. At £12, it was a great bargain though I don’t think you manage much of a main course after such a substantial starter. Our shared pudding of baked vanilla cheesecake (£7.50) was another winner. A near magical amalgam of lightness and solidity, it could stand slice-to-slice against the celebrated NYC cheesecakes of Lindy’s and Junior’s. I’d happily hop on the No. 11 bus for this item alone.
With its high-gloss service, unparalleled acreage and prompt, classy cuisine served from 7am to midnight, The Delaunay is exactly the sort of swanky establishment that visitors to the big city hope to find and seldom do. We’re lucky to have this corner of Old Vienna on the Aldwych.
The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB Tel: 020 7499 8558
Open Monday to Friday 7am-midnight; Saturday 8am-midnight; Sunday 11am-11pm
Food ⋆⋆⋆⋆ Ambiance ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆ Service ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆