Given Worrall Thompson's TV popularity, not to mention his success in launching critically acclaimed restaurants, you'd have thought such chippiness unnecessary. He has managed to build a high media profile while playing a formative role in shaping successive restaurant revolutions - nouvelle cuisine at Menage a Trois in the Eighties, reinventing the Mediterranean diet at dell'Ugo in the early Nineties and, most recently, at Woz, introducing the idea of fixed-price, no-choice dining, in which the food is served dinner-party style, to be shared by the whole table.
Sharing is also the principle behind Wiz which, like Woz, lies in one of the more "mixed" parts of that most fashionably mixed of London districts, Notting Hill. Forming a breakwater between graceful terraces of million- pound houses and some forbidding council blocks, Wiz was once a scruffy pub favoured by prisoners just released from Wormwood Scrubs. It then enjoyed a short-lived transformation into the trendy but unloved W11 before Worrall Thompson took it over in August, redesigning it and reopening within six weeks, a feat worthy of one of the daytime makeover shows he regularly appears on.
The gastronomic Big Idea he's come up with this time is a pan-global interpretation of Chinese dim sum: the menu is divided into seven different country categories, each offering seven or eight smallish dishes. Ordering is communal and the food is placed on the table as it is ready, to be shared by everyone. Timid diners can opt for a package tour, in the form of the chef's selection of four or five dishes from a single country, while the bolder can surf the continents to create their own experimental combinations.
Any chance of my sneaking into Wiz unnoticed by its critically sensitive proprietor was scuppered by the fact that the doors open more or less straight into the open-plan kitchen. Worrall Thompson was, therefore, immediately able to spot my companion, the actress Helen Atkinson Wood, whom he knows from their regular appearances together on the Richard and Judy show as members of a celebrity panel of Taste Testers. Springing from behind his counter, he swept Helen into a bear hug, then planted a debonair kiss on my own hand, apparently unaware that it would shortly be sullied by the dirty task of professional criticism.
As might be expected from a retired Taste Tester, Helen is the dream reviewing companion, combining a passionate interest in food with a passionate determination not to stop talking at any cost. She is also a passionate non-meat eater, which was fortunate because otherwise we might have been tempted to order everything on the menu. As it was, we still over-ordered on an epic scale, ignoring AWT's recommendation that we initially restrict ourselves to four or five dishes, and resolving instead to sample one dish from every country on the menu. Our waitress indulged us warily, patently thinking we were either mad or two recent hunger-strikers on the run from Wormwood Scrubs.
Breads, home-baked and various, arrived in a small aluminium bucket, a utilitarian touch that echoes the bare-bricks and wrought-iron decor of the convivial downstairs dining room (there's a smaller and slightly more formal room upstairs). Huge shards of crisp poppy-seed wafer were sharp enough to puncture the soft palate and, as Helen commented, "wouldn't look out of place lining a budgie cage". But we appreciated the impression of abundance created by the accompanying range of olives and dips. Swift to follow were our cold selections - from "The Americas", a sensationally fresh, chunky guacamole, and from "The Spice Trail", a smoky aubergine- and-red-pepper salad, flavoured with cumin and coriander. Using the bread as a buffer, I began to shuttle between cuisines, while Helen spooned guacamole directly from the serving dish into her mouth, stubbornly refusing to get her passport stamped.
Soon, though, she had no choice but to surrender to the mix 'n' match concept as dishes from around the world began to pile up on our table. Rugged little salt cod fritters (Spain and Portugal) harmonised wonderfully with the guacamole; a whole Reblochon cheese (France) came baked in a pastry crust and served with apple jelly; and a theoretically unpromising combination of chermoula- spiced seared scallops and pumpkin ravioli with sage butter (the Mediterranean and Italy respectively) proved unexpectedly serendipitous.
Last to arrive was the United Kingdom entry, a round patty of bubble and squeak topped with a poached egg. It didn't go with anything, but was oddly comforting - having eaten our way around the world, it was good to be home again. "He's set himself a hell of a task - to be superlative in every cuisine of the world - and, by crikey, he's managed it," was Helen's summary of our grand tour.
Despite the relatively modest size of the portions, we were still struggling to finish our late arrivals when unexpected help arrived in the form of two friends, curious locals who had dropped by in response to a mail shot. Suddenly, the Wiz concept came into its own. Smoothly incorporating themselves into our dining experience, they helped to polish off our leftovers, then ordered a few extra dishes of their own. In fact, they were so impressed that they kept ordering. We knew we'd pushed the eclectic thing too far when a chocolate mousse arrived at the same time as a dish of seared foie gras.
Worrall Thompson had by now emerged from his kitchen and was working the room, sitting down for a drink with some, autographing copies of his recipe book for others. When our turn came I was forced to confess that, yes, I was a critic, but I'd loved the Wiz experience. "It's like someone's gone mad in the cook-chill counter of Marks & Spencer and just thrown everything into their trolley," I ventured. It didn't go down quite as well as I'd planned.
At about pounds 30 a head, Wiz seems to be another winning formula for Worrall Thompson, who plans to use it as the prototype for a series of neighbourhood places. As he says, it is a sharing restaurant for the caring, sharing Nineties; unless, that is, you happen to be poor old Michael Winner
Wiz, 123a Clarendon Road, London W11 (0171-229 1500). Mon-Fri noon-11pm; Sat & Sun brunch 11am-4pm; Sat dinner 7pm-11pm, Sun 7pm-10.30pm. Limited disabled access. All cards.
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