David Bailey is at the next table, and that’s actress Sharon Gless by the window.
The Wolseley restaurant has a new sibling, and celebrities already are filling it. The Delaunay -- the name of an old French luxury auto -- is housed in an Art Deco-style room where family dinners and dangerous liaisons are equally appropriate.
The Delaunay is on the Aldwych, home to several theaters, Bush House, the High Commission of India and the London School of Economics. It’s about a 20-minute stroll from the Wolseley, which is on Piccadilly.
The Wolseley has had few competitors in attracting actors and artists, such as Lucian Freud. On the day the painter died, his table was left vacant, covered with a black tablecloth and with a small night light. Both restaurants belong to Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the restaurateurs formerly behind the Ivy.
The Delaunay menu is central European. The ambience is of a grand cafe where coffee and cakes are served all day, along with a dollop of glamour and a soupcon of intrigue. The prices are affordable, the service is discreet and the milieu rich.
Corbin and King are men for whom no detail is too minor. You’ll usually see one of them unobtrusively working the floor, stopping off for quiet conversations with diners while also watching the service. The dining room feels expensive and luxurious, yet the prices are restrained.
Most of the starters cost less than 10 pounds ($15.69). My favorites include a superb, generous chopped-chicken salad with herbs, and a tarte flambee with smoked bacon and shallots. That’s like a gourmet thin-and-crispy pizza. The Welsh rarebit is so magnificent that I eat it each time, though it’s not a starter as such. The salad tiede of wild mushrooms is unbalanced by too much vinegar, yet I enjoy it and have had it twice.
You may go along for just a few oysters or moules frites. Among the main courses, I keep ordering the kedgeree: flaked fish with egg, curry spices and creamy rice. I’ve done my duty and tried a few dishes, including chicken schnitzel; sirloin steak with butter and fries; and the great beef stroganoff.
There are also daily specials, including chicken curry on Mondays and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays.
Even in its opening days, the cooking and service were generally good -- I’d say better than the Wolseley -- although one evening several dishes turned up lukewarm. That’s a problem if the butter takes an age to melt on your steak and the fries - - even huddled together -- give up the fight against the cold.
Talking of cold, the most exciting option on the menu is a dessert: It hides behind the name of Kinder, but British readers won’t fall for that disguise. It’s a knickerbocker glory, a tall glass filled with raspberry, vanilla and chocolate ice creams, whipped cream, marshmallows, meringue and chocolate sauce. It costs 8.75 pounds and is better than a dangerous liaison. My heart is racing just thinking about it. I’d better lie down.
Apart from this excursion into childhood, the Delaunay is a grown-up restaurant. It’s hushed, and the soft lighting fills in the lines on your face as smoothly as Botox. The old can feel younger and the young can feel mature so both sides meet in that comfortable no man’s land of middle age.
All the non-reserve wines are available by the glass and carafe and they start below 20 pounds a bottle. For something a little unusual, the Douro Branco “Dourosa” 2010 Quinta de la Rosa (32.50 pounds) from Portugal, with a hint of pink, is fresh and citrusy and particularly good as an aperitif.
If you have any energy left, there’s a separate area that’s hidden away in another room. This has a takeaway counter and a few tables where you may sip coffee and have a bite to eat. It’s a cafe within a cafe, like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a sphinx: A riddle that’s solved with fine espresso and cakes.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 35 pounds plus wine
Sound level? About 70 decibels. Hushed.
Inside tip? All tables are good.
Special feature? It’s the only rival to the Wolseley.
Will I be back? Yes, often.
Date place? Yes.
Delaunay is at 55 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BB. Information: +44-20-7499-8558 or http://www.thedelaunay.com/.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)