Due to meet my oldest school friend Ed (not Luxuriate’s Editor as he was away sunning himself in Oman), I puzzled over where to book as these days dinner with Ed is sadly only an annual occasion due to his hectic schedule as a TV presenter.
With a few notable exceptions in London (Tom Booton at The Dorchester, Helene Darroze at the Connaught, Laurent at Hotel Café Royal and the much-anticipated Davies and Brook), it has sometimes been said that luxury hotel dining rooms are where great chefs do their least inspiring work. The combination of a captive audience and appealing to the widest customer base can lead to disappointing experiences. Happily I can report that my concerns were unfounded and Demetre’s skill, passion and generous spirit shines through as dinner was a triumph.
Opened in Mayfair in 2007 the original Wild Honey followed Demetre’s other equally adored Arbutus in Soho, so its recent closure was mourned by many regulars, myself included. Needing somewhere central and suitably celebratory for that long overdue catch up with Ed, I decided to ignore hotel restaurant prejudices and give Wild Honey St James a try.
The dining room is comfortable and has great acoustics – something all too often lacking in London’s restaurants. Two men rapidly approaching the middle of our middle age talked for three hours without strain or the need to ask for music to be lowered.
We began with a glass of Wild Honey’s own vermouth, a gorgeous ruby shaded example of this shamefully unpopular aperitif. A lovely start to the evening that all too quickly disappeared! The intimate hotel bar has recently undergone a transformation and now boasts a marble bar top, dark blue velvet banquettes and a brand new menu disguised as a passport full of enticing signature cocktails including a ‘Truffe au chocolat’ with Cambridge truffle gin, Valrhona Celaya chocolate and summer pear nectar.
Tempted by a tasting menu tantalisingly described by our enthusiastic and sweet waitress but mindful of train times and Ed’s TV schedule, we went a la carte with an extra starter for luck.
Much has been made of the restaurant’s Cacio e Pepe pasta with chicken wings on social media so this was a must order. My trainer’s exhortation to eat more protein after every punishing session was ringing in my ears so I ordered some Coppa, a traditional smoked salami with cinnamon, coriander and juniper. The pasta had a rich and nutty sauce, al dente rigatoni and glossy chicken wings. The Coppa too was a revelation, the herbs imbuing the silky ham with deep and complex flavours.
With both Ed and myself wanting beef as a main course – a classic grilled piece of exemplary meat with a red wine sauce, we agreed to share and I continued the carnivorous theme with venison. Both dishes were delicious, as elegant in presentation as they were in their balance of flavours. We stuck with Spain for our drinks with a satisfying Tempranillo that had the necessary roughness to work with the main courses’ rich saucing.
Testament to Demetre’s reputation as a chef and his London fan base is the success of not only the Cacio e Pepe’s cult status, but also the celebrity of his custard tart. Having been barraged with pictures of this tart since launch with its insta-friendly colours and perfect proportions that appear to have been cut by laser I had to try it for myself. As gorgeous in real life as online, even without a filter – I was glad that it more than lived up to its reputation. A cinnamon and nutmeg topping gave way to a perfect custard and pastry with golden sultanas, pine nuts and salted butter. Indulgent but not heavy, the perfect dessert to finish a wonderful dinner.
The dessert was like all that preceded it – classic, well-executed and a careful combination of traditional French cooking and contemporary deftness of touch that is Demetre’s hallmark. As Ed remarked as we left, “If I ate this well every time I saw you, it would be more than once a year!” – Thanks Ed.
To discover more and book, visit: www.wildhoneystjames.co.uk
By Paul Ford