There’s something about walking into a restaurant that has its own personal flag, it can’t help but raise expectations somewhat. The one room culinary nation in question is Wild Honey St James: a name that might be familiar to Mayfair residents. Yes, Wild Honey St James is the Lazarine resurrection of the West London borough’s lamented eatery Wild Honey, praise be. The new model lodges cuckoo-like in the cavernous environs of the Hotel Sofitel, London St James, annexing the real estate formerly occupied by the Balcon restaurant. Both the Mayfair and new St James edition are the brain children of gastronomic mastermind Anthony Demetre; who has been in the Very Fancy Restaurant game for quite some time now.
As the original branch managed an award-worthy 12 years in Mayfair’s ermine trimmed culinary coliseum, expectations on the new model are pitched somewhere between sky-high and hysterical. First things first; the layout is elegant and modern whilst retaining a touch By Max Feldman of the dignified formality that is so often surrendered in the scramble for buzz. Enormous light fixtures, closer in shape to constellations than chandeliers, provide a comforting glow over the velvety dark wood furnishings and Twin Peaks-esque black and white marble floor. On our way in we sweep past a built- in bar that seems to have been transplanted straight from the Overlook Hotel’s Gold Room and through a large, well laid out dining area with plenty of space per seat. Our own table, which announced our reservation rather charmingly with a decorative sculpture of the letter R, was well positioned to catch a waiter and so we were off to the races.
The first thing you notice about the menu is that there’s very little distinguishing starters from mains, with the entire menu laid out on a single sheet of paper in a notably cramped font. As a result the eye does tend to twitch across the menu rather more than intended, to the point where we had to send the waiter away twice whilst picking through the intimidating selection. Eventually we took the bold decision to give up completely and put ourselves entirely into his (reassuringly capable) hands. Far more pressing than that typographical niggle is the fact that the price list does not exactly pull its punches: with the starters averaging about £12 whilst the mains balance out at approximately £30. Luckily the fiscal blow is rather comfortably cushioned by the previously mentioned in-house bar; which is stocked with 100 bins of wine as well as three specialised, and rather crippling, cocktails. My guest was lured by the oddly named ‘I am very specific with my Negroni’ Negroni (£12.00) whilst I fell into the arms of the harmless sounding ‘Aged Bijou’ cocktail (£16.00). The Negroni was as potent as expected, but with a nicely smooth finish, my ‘Aged Bijou’ by contrast didn’t mess around with an intense flavour that hit like a hammer; one for the seasoned professionals perhaps.
The food on offer is, broadly speaking, French-based contemporary with the occasional British incursion. After our waiters suggestion I couldn’t turn down the pig’s head (£9), sadly for Lord Of The Flies, it’s less of a head than a remarkably flavourful cylinder of meat. Whilst not the biggest portion, it was sinfully rich and commanded my attention so completely by the time my main arrived it was almost a surprise. Though it might have slipped my mind whilst I was tête à tête with the pig, there was nothing forgettable about the main: Saddle of Fallow venison, caramelised celeriac puree, Armagnac and pear (£24). Whilst similarly not exactly cornucopia in scale, each mouthful counted for ten. Bouncing between the celeriac and pear proved a deeply satisfying metronome and even though I felt as if I couldn’t handle another mouthful I was distressed to finally finish it. Whilst feeling like there was no way I could handle a dessert, at our waiter’s gentle cajoling I called time with the warm chocolate soup, served with toasted rice ice cream (£9). A warm comfortable bath of a dessert, by the time you get through this you will be relaxed and sated enough that the bill will only cause a slight eyebrow twitch, as second acts go, Wild Honey Saint James more than goes the distance.
Wild Honey St James 8 Pall Mall, St. James’s, SW1Y 5NG T: 020 7389 7820