Racing the short distance up St James Street in the biting cold, we poured into the hotel and were shown straight into the restaurant by the staff. The tables are distributed around a number of alcoves, with guests are discreetly dispersed to ensure privacy. Despite being there at 8.30, we were among the first diners. The decoration is somewhat eclectic, with contrasting carpet, upholstery and wallpaper, and contemporary art on the walls. Some have described it as a jewell-box, the Hubby called it a car crash. It will definitely not appeal to everyone.
We were offered drinks and the menu, and settled in to make our choices. The bread offerings were white, brown, and caraway seed. I'm very fond of caraway, so I chose that - it was soft, dense, rather pale but beautifully perfumed and with a soft crust - a lifetime away from my sourdough caraway, but lovely all the same.
The amuse was some kind of escabeche, sardine I think, with blood orange and baby carrots - the fish was firm but delicately soused, and the blood orange acidity cut through the rich fish well. I'm not entirely sure what function the carrots played.
The Hubby had seared scallops with gratin of salsify and truffle jus - the scallops were large and meaty, but were also overcooked. The rest of the dish lacked flavour.
I moved on to a roast fillet of turbot with a horseradish and oyster beignet. The turbot was beautifully cooked, crisp on the outside, delicate in the middle. I only ate half of the beignet, but it was both crisp and moist inside.
The Hubby had the veal cheek slow cooked in Madeira, with bone marrow mash and grain mustard sauce - the veal cheek was dense, unctuous and full of flavour, but the bone marrow flavour was lacking in the mash.
We weren't particularly impressed by this stage. I rarely make it to dessert and I thought we really ought to try one, so we decided to share the milk chocolate dessert between us. The milk chocolate, gingerbread and salted caramel ice-cream seemed particularly appropriate given my earlier conversations about lebkuchen.
The gingerbread comes in tiny cubes, spiced like lebkuchen*, interspersed with little dots of clementine jam. There are piped stripes of chocolate running in parallel lines down the length of the plate, with a quenelle of salted caramel ice-cream at one end and a stack of chocolate strips layered with piped chocolate mousse at the other. The chocolate was crisp - perfect 'snap', very well tempered, glossy and good. The mousse inside it was good, but the ice-cream was fabulous. Fabulous. Combined with the warm gingerbread and the acidic clementine, the salted nut worked perfectly. It's an amazing dessert and the Hubby told me off as I began to change my tune, suddenly finding merit in the earlier dishes. But this is how good meals work - one dish can transform your whole experience.
We were offered the usual treats, on this occasion from a lovely adapted humidor with rows and stacks of truffles, jellies, candied delights etc. All very good.
The staff are very professional, and I note they spoke Italian to the Italians, etc, in the way that good hotel restaurants do. However the meal worked out at about the same price as a visit to Scotts, or perhaps a better comparison in terms of aesthetics, Le Gavroche. Having calculated the meal back out, more than half of the cost came down to the alcohol, which was subject to hotel markups.
The restaurant is in a good location, and I can imagine returning if we wanted a secret hideaway. We'll definitely pop into bar for either lunch, or a postprandial drink - the bar actually looked rather good. However with so many excellent restaurants on the doorstep (Petrus, Greenhouse, L'Oranger, Galvin at Windows, Cecconi's, Alain Ducasse, le Caprice, The Square etc), I shan't be racing back for dinner.
7-8 Park Place,
St James's Hotel and Club
London SW1A 1LP
Lebkuchen*: Having grown up in Germany, lebkuchen are very much a part of my childhood. At Christmas street fairs, stalls are packed high with lebkuchen and scented with glühwein.
Unlike British gingerbread recipes which are usually made with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and treacle, lebkuchen are made with honey and include a number of additional spices which add warmth and depth to the flavour. They're much closer in flavour to the French pain d'épices, than our gingerbread with aniseed, coriander, cardamom, and allspice. Often grated zest, or the flavour of candied peel are included too, adding a level of fruitiness and acidity.
Lebkuchen are traditionally glazed with dark chocolate, or a citrus sugar glaze, which scents the outside of the biscuit before you bite into the warm spice. This is why William's dessert worked so well for me - a deconstructed lebkuchen with chocolate and salted caramel - perfect.