The Delaunay

Some weekends, you just can’t make it to Vienna. You can’t make it to Prague, Budapest, or Berlin.  If you’re craving the sort of civility that tags along with an afternoon spent in a grand European cafe, then you could do much worse than spend some time at The Delaunay.

The Delaunay in Aldwych is the newest sibling to that elegant London stalwart; The Wolsley.

The space is divided into three. There’s the dining room; large and open, cosseted by white tablecloths and dark wooden accents. In here people are luxuriating over long lunches of schnitzels and goujons of plaice. It’s the sort of room where you want to book  in advance to make sure there’s a table secured for when your elderly Aunt catches a train down into London. Outside there’s The Counter- it’s the kind of place where you can shuffle into for the sort of  food you wish a Jewish mother would hand deliver to you when you’re poorly; from chicken soup with dumplings, through to salt beef pretzels.

Then there’s the salon. If you arrive for an early lunch, there’s usually room for walk ins in the salon. It’s half a bar, half a tea room, looking onto the main dining room. The centre piece is the cake stand. Around that are  banquettes flanking the windows and cosy moss green topped marble tables that are perfectly sized for two. Note; sensible people will sit opposite each other. Visiting Europeans with differing interpretations of personal space will squeeze next to each other, facing the centre of the room and offering you an elbow with every bite of their tarte flambée.

The first time I visited was a brunch/lunch when The Hungry One was out of town. I went with a film-director friend. As soon as I opened the menu, I kicked myself. It’s as if its contents was plucked from the food-fantasy section of The Hungry One’s Teutonic leaning noggin. Schnitzel. Choucroute. Wieners. Austrian Lagers. And tortes.

I knew then that there was a good chance I’d have to return. It’s one thing to spend your Sunday having a long lunch with another man. It’s another to go somewhere you know your spouse will adore. That’s a kind of cruelty I’m not comfortable with swallowing.

While there are highlights and shadowy spots on the menu, what is a constant is the level of adornment and fuss that comes with each dish. If you want to eat somewhere and feel special- this is a good place to do it.

The mood is set by the doorman in a hat. It continues to the cloak room, umbrella stand and the way that the day’s newspapers are carefully splayed for single diners to surreptitiously pick up on their way to a table.

In the salon the tables are set with silver pepper mills and shiny shakers of salt. Butter comes with flat caps of paper and bread baskets are delivered promptly after arrival. Wine is drunk from short open mouthed glasses and bottles are decanted into carafes tableside.

Platters of oysters are served elevated over ice, with lemon cheeks dressed in elasticised cheesecloth hats to catch any pips. It’s a nice touch, but one that may recall the sight of shower caps.

In spite of their generous presentation, if you’re after fresh shucked oysters- go to Wright Brothers. Here their juices were a little insipid.

For those who can keep a straight face while saying the word out loud, there’s a special section on the menu for wieners, with six types of sausage listed. They’re available as hot dogs, or plated with potato salad and onions. A bratwurst, served American style (£6.50) arrives on an impressively charred and butter glossed bun and a paper canister of shoestring fries. There’s French’s mustard brought to the table- but the end result remains dry. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the three sauces we came to love in Icelandic pylsurs.

What The Delaunay excels at are larger, German leaning bistro dishes. If you’re craving salted meat products, it’s hard to go past the choucroute (£16). This Alsatian speciality of warm sauerkraut, topped with a minimum of three meat products comes out to play with artfully turned potatoes and your choice of mustards.

It’s big enough for two to share. It’s comforting and rich, with just the right amount of acidic cut through from the cabbage. It’s what I’d order every time I’d go- if it wasn’t for the schnitzel.

A good schnitzel is hard to find. For The Hungry One, the brief is simple. Size has a lot to do with it. A light and puffy crust also comes into the equation. And while he prefers a pork or a chicken- The Delaunay’s veal schnitzel was enough to tempt him over to the light side.

It’s as wide as a fireman’s helmet, with the flaky crust ballooning in sections, like poorly applied covering on text books. Yet it’s in these bubbles that the magic happens. It takes real skill and just the right amount of oil to ensure a puffy schnitzel- and when found, it’s a hard thing to walk away from.

Next time we return I may be tempted by one of the comfort food classics of the day (£18.50); from Chicken Kiev (Saturday), Daube of Beef (Tuesday). For those dining earlier there’s also the curiosity of British brunch specialities like kedgeree and an Omelette Arnold Bennett.

But for The Hungry One, the real reason we’ll be returning is the black forest cake. His love for the melding of chocolate, cherries and cream can is enduring and well documented.

The Delaunay’s rendition is a sweet song on a plate. It’s tall and proud and sits like a crown, the circumference flecked with dark chocolate shavings and the top gilded by morello cherries and clouds of cream. The inside is two layers of booze licked chocolate sponge. There on a plate is his Peter Pan Happy Place, brought to life.

For those who haven’t just consumed their weekly quota of cream in a cake, to close a meal there are Viennese coffees, but the noisettes also prove a sound option. Silver platters herald the arrival of twee cups of espresso and milk, half way between a piccolo latte and a macchiato. Along side are slivers of foil wrapped chocolate and small glasses of water for chasers.

It’s a very thoughtful coffee, in a very charming space.

The Delaunay is the sort of place to go when you want a touch of civility in your day (and don’t mind paying a bit of money for it). It’s where I’ll now go when I want a long breakfast of tea, viennoiseries and the chance to read every section of The Guardian in gilded surrounds. And I’m fairly certain it’s where I’ll begin the search for The Hungry One when those days strike when he’s in dire need of proper schnitzel, a Stiegel lager and a slice of black forest cake. For this and for many things,  I’m grateful. It’ll be much easier to find him in Aldwych than Europe.

The Delaunay
(020) 7499 8558
55 Aldwych Map.9690eac
London, UK WC2B 4
The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

  1. Ute@HungryinLondon on 25 May 2012

    Sounds/looks good! A place to go when I crave Austrian food, although I am not entirely convinced by the look of the Wiener Schnitzel. Is there sauce on the plate?!

  2. I think this is the second time I’ve seen hot dogs around here and I’m starting to develop a craving. 🙂

  3. Was that schnitzel the size of a plate, or what?? And i love that fact that the centre piece of the salon is the cake stand. They should have named this place Debauchery (of the culinary kind, that is!)

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