By the end of 2012 however, you'll barely be able to turn around in central London without finding yourself near a Corbin & King-owned restaurant, as in addition to The Wolseley and The Delaunay plans are already well underway for the openings of Brasserie Zedel off Piccadilly and Cafe Colbert on the former Oriel site on Sloane Square. With a hotel due to open in 2014, a chain, albeit a rather grand one, is being forged.
Unsurprisingly, for their first post-St Alban outing Corbin and King have chosen to stick to the same schtick as The Wolseley; The Delaunay, too, is 'an all-day cafe-restaurant in the grand European style'. This means a large room given an opulent makeover by interiors legend David Collins to look like it's always been there - acres of marble and antiqued, rather than antique, mirrors abound - while the lengthy menu of brasserie staples is almost indistinguishable, in content and typography, from The Wolseley's.
If the overall effect is somewhat ersatz, it doesn't prevent The Delaunay from being an absolutely lovely place to be. I'd booked in for dinner with two friends and fellow Mitford sisters obsessives for the latest of our occasional 'fan club' outings, whereby we convene somewhere glamorous of which we think Nancy Mitford would have approved and read selected favourite passages from her and her sisters' writings to each other (sorry, but if you wanted someone who does butch things in his spare time you are reading completely the wrong blog). The Delaunay was a perfect choice; we couldn't have had a nicer time.
Having booked only a day before we were denied a table in the main dining room but were perfectly happy with our table in the adjacent Salon. While some diners seated here might consider it to be second-class accommodation compared to first next door, we certainly didn't feel at all hard done by and service couldn't have been better - friendly but nicely formal, presided over by general manager Sebastian Fogg, a man so dapper and cosmopolitan in his three-piece suit that I refuse to believe he isn't descended from Phileas.
Food was uniformly good; not at all exciting, but then grand European café food isn't meant to be. My starter of steak tartare was silky and well-spiced, although I missed being asked how spicy I like it or being offered condiments to tweak it to my taste, as usually happens elsewhere. The Client's liverwurst with pickled walnuts and toasted rye bread was an elegant Teutonic take on paté on toast.
For main courses, Karin and I ordered from the 'Wieners' section of the menu that offers a brace of five slightly different sausages, or your choice of any two, garnished with sauerkraut and potato salad for only about a tenner. I no longer remember which we had - I was too busy declaiming Deborah Devonshire to take notes - but I know that we very much enjoyed everything and remarked on what good value it was. The Client was similarly enthusiastic about his fish 'n' chips (naturally rather more grandly styled as 'goujons of plaice' and served with a dainty muslin-wrapped lemon half, but undeniably fish 'n' chips).
As is often the case, the best course was dessert. Pudding is a big deal at The Delaunay, with an entire third of the menu being dedicated to Desserts - ice cream, fruit salad, mousses - Patisserie from an alluring display and Coupes, wonderful ice cream sundaes. The Client chose the refreshing Seville, consisting of blood orange sorbet with orange compote, while I went for the boozy Highland - whisky and coffee ice creams, laced with ginger and topped with whipped cream. Both were delicious, retro and fun - words which pretty much sum up The Delaunay itself.
Pricing is reasonable; a couple of bottles of Gruner-Veltliner, after-dinner drinks and service pushed the bill up to about £40 each though you could easily get away with a main course and a glass of wine for around half that. The atmosphere is lively, The Delaunay's location on the edge of Theatreland ensuring a steady flow of customers throughout the evening, with speculative walk-ins arriving even as we were leaving - clearly not put off by the very stern doorman whose unwelcoming stiffness was the only real duff note of the evening.
The Delaunay is very much a branch of The Wolseley - its name, like its sibling's, taken from a vintage car, as is [Brasserie] Zedel's - but if its deep-pocketed investors' backing is conditional on a manifesto of 'If it ain't broke don't fix it' no-one can blame them for that. Whether London's appetite for the format will be enough to sustain another (and another) in a similar mould remains to be seen but for now, The Delaunay looks guaranteed to give Messrs Corbin and King a long-awaited second success.
The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB Tel: 020 7499 8558 http://www.thedelaunay.com
Posted by +Hugh Wright