Wigmore launches guest chef toastie series

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 curtain entrance, greetings at the door, on one of London’s brightest streets. It all seems a little inconsistent.

But going to the table through the pleasantly tight atmosphere, past the dark wood, heavy green ceilings and the large bar – which has an almost Catholic austerity – melts away this fear. And the resulting harmonious combination appropriately reflects Wigmore’s signature dish, a large cheese toasty with Montgomery Cheddar, Ogleshield and Raclette along with Dijon mustard, red onion, gherkins and chives. Sweet, greasy, buttery, crispy, it’s a sublime, almost scary sandwich; the size more than justifies its price tag of £ 13 (I know that).

Photo: Bronac McNeill

This dish has become so popular since The Wigmore’s opening in 2017 that Michel Roux Jr. for the next three months (until January 8) have invited chefs Andrew Wong, Cyrus Todiwala and Anna Haugh to bring their own signature version. Each iteration will be served for one month with some of the proceeds donated to the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

Andrew Wong’s crab and black pepper chuptoastie captures, in a delicate package, this Singaporean dish, which is spicy, aromatic and unusual – rarely in Western cooking do we get so much use of black pepper, which does not really occur to us as a spice. It’s almost a seafood Mille-fueille, but still recognizably a toastie. From November 16, it’s Cyrus Todiwala’s turn.

The Wigmore A Wong sandwich NABS, Nigel Redman, November 29, 2019, © BronacMcNeill
Andrew Wongs toasted sandwich | Photo: Bronac McNeill

Once in a while, my mom used to roll out an old sandwich press. The white plastic machine would be placed on the counter and charged for several minutes; never touch we were always told. Brown bread, ham, Edam, butter on the outside – the result had shrunken edges, almost crust-free with burnt trenches on the bread. Scald hot, slices of ham fall out whole and always ketchup.

Always ketchup to the point that when our food arrives at The Wigmore, I almost ask for something, but bite my tongue and remember where I am. Everyone has a memory of a cheese toastie – greasy fingers, crumbs that fall like snow or the first youth outing with a frying pan. So it’s a big task to base a menu around this dish, but a masterpiece to get it right.

The Wigmore, New Sandwich, September 22, 2021, photographer BronacMcNeill
Cyrus Todiwalas toasted sandwich | Photo: Bronac McNeill

So what else? There, the Scottish egg is coated with a kind of crispy vermicelli that looks like a hedgehog after a strong coffee. It sits on top of a sweet, spicy daal in which the egg collapses. The dish is not something I knew I needed, but it has changed my perception of Scottish eggs. There are also fatty chips with Bloody Mary Salt (which tastes like a Bloody Mary) and a delicious beetroot salad takes the strain off our moaning table.

Mains run around the dining room from lamb pie; to a cheeseburger draped with beef tongue; steamed bream, braised peas and ham; and soy-glazed chicken sitting happily in a bun with pickled cabbage and sweet chili fries. This is the kind of place where a concise menu suggests the confidence expected of someone as skilled as Michel Roux Jr. However, the beverage list is comprehensive (but crucially not exhaustive) rather than concise. There is a selection of beers, wines, classic cocktails, hoptails (cocktails with beer) and punch.

The atmosphere is sociable. It’s one of those restaurants (thankfully) where the conversation is louder than the music. My dining buddy likes cows, she tells me that fluffy Highland Cattle must have Gaelic names, and Canach (for a girl, of course), translates to Book Cotton. There is also a farmer in the Tamar Valley who is planning his year after when the salmon will start running up the river. This arouses my interest as I read a book on salmon. I can hear all this because there is no muzak – during the evening I almost discover Waterfall by the Stone Roses, Golden Years by David Bowie and Burning Down the House by Talking Heads. When you look around, people seem to be happy to talk to each other – I can not see any miserable faces squinting at menus that are hidden by underground lighting and gloomily suck in another glass of what anytime, anywhere.

Late in the meal, as I almost send an empty wine glass cart across the room, a waitress picks it up from danger with a smile.

It may seem absurd to become lyrical about a pub – a Scottish egg; some fat chips; and par toasties; a cold pint of hop-like, fruity, dexterous ale; a good bottle of wine – but food does not have to be hard to be ingenious. And The Wigmore demonstrates it better than almost anywhere I’ve been to London.

Wigmore can be found at 15 Langham Pl, London W1B 3DE.

Related: Review: A perfect breakfast at A.Wong

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