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How a traditional members’ club is welcoming new guests.
The Wellington Club has recently relocated from its Knightsbridge home to Jermyn Street, St James’s. Walking down this elegant street, surrounded by high-end men’s outfitters, I felt rather underdressed. But no sartorial airs and graces were on display when we arrived at the discreet door of The Wellington and descended the steps to the subterranean restaurant. The club, one of the oldest members’ clubs in the UK, established in 1832, is situated in the restaurant’s basement. The restaurant, open to the public, was as welcoming as a cashmere throw on a cold night.
I have great admiration for the interior designers who have transformed a windowless, low ceiling room into the dynamic space that is The Wellington. Clever geometric lighting is but one artwork in a venue that is – literally – wall to wall Damien Hirst’s spray-painted graffiti. We sat below his butterfly; nearby, a table of young men were seated alongside a shark. There were skulls aplenty. The staircase down to the club hosted a rare print, The Hours. Neon lights from the late Chris Bracey abound. Sculptures by Jonathan Wylder were dotted about. It was like eating in a hip gallery with a good soundtrack.
Pride of place at The Wellington is given to Hirst’s mirrored Disco Skull which hangs above the marble-topped bar and throws a skull-shaped shadow on a side wall. It was mesmerising although perhaps that effect was enhanced by the rather fabulous cocktails. The ambience radiated fun and what better way to get into the groove than a Blush or a So Cult. These were just two of a list of signature cocktails on offer and were suggested by the mixologist who quizzed us about our taste in drinks. I said I like champagne and gin and, minutes later, was presented with a deliciously pink cocktail. Blush was not too sweet and combined Ruinart Brut, Bosford Pink Gin, and strawberry and cream sherbet.
With Executive Chef Brett Duarte in the kitchen, we knew we were in for an excellent dinner. Previously with the Gaucho Group, he brings a great selection of meat to the menu. Trying to eat less of the red stuff, I restricted myself to fish and was pleased to see that pescatarians and vegetarians were all well catered for. A consummately professional waiter, Marcello, spoke us through the menu and we left the choice of our wine pairings in his capable hands. His attentive yet discreet service enhanced the evening.
The menu boasted a wide range of Scotch Black Angus steaks – from fillet to picanha – as well as a tempting list of sharing options – chateaubriand, ribeye on the bone, a 1kg porterhouse or t-bone. There was also a small, well-balanced Modern European menu.
I began with scallops which were served with grilled corn and shallot jus. Looking enticing on a black plate, the scallops were perfectly succulent and topped with dried ham. Contrasting texture and flavour were provided by the sweet corn and an outstanding shallot jus for which I would dearly love to have the recipe. It was unctuously rich and a beautiful way to enhance the scallop dish which brought forth sweet, salty and umami flavours with every mouthful. The wine pairing was Lagar da Xestosa, Godello, Monterrei, Spain.
My companion enjoyed a plate of crispy ox cheeks with jalapeno mayonnaise. Three crispy, deep-fried croquettes of pulled ox cheek were happily dipped into the spicy mayo. This was paired very well with a mellow Black Cherry Merlot, Les Vignerons de la Vicomte, 2017.
My carnivorous companion opted for a 300g fillet with Béarnaise sauce. Marcello extolled the virtues of the triple cooked chips and was he right! I have eaten many a helping of triple cooked chips since they became fashionable and almost never feel satisfied with them. These, however, were the real McCoy. Fat, chunky wedges with well-salted, crispy exteriors that revealed fluffy, light interiors. Taken to an even higher level when dipped into the herby béarnaise redolent with tarragon. The fillet was served medium rare, a superior steak. A glass of Spanish Rioja, Finca Manzanos, 2014, was lightly peppery and full-bodied.
As a pescatarian, I had a choice between halibut and a whole Dover sole meunière. While the most expensive dish on the menu, the Dover sole was big enough for a family. It was filleted expertly tableside and served simply with a lemon wedge and a delicate butter, lemon and parsley sauce.
The fish, lightly coated in its seasoned crust, was perfectly cooked and utterly delicious, juicy, firm and flavoursome. I felt totally spoilt. Sides of spinach and another of tenderstem broccoli in soy and chilli were welcome accompaniments. Simple, tasty and fresh. My main course was paired with a lightly oaked, buttery Chilean Chardonnay, Nostros Gran Reserva Indomita, Valle de Casablanca, 2018.
Desserts were artfully presented, especially my chocolate ganache and blackberries served with a quenelle of blackberry sorbet and a burnt chocolate tuile. It was seasonal and a surprising light end to a large meal. My companion’s sticky toffee pudding with chocolate praline and vanilla ice cream was plated as a medallion which was more attractive than the conventional wedge and was doused in a gorgeous sauce. We were served glasses of chilled dessert wines which are, to my mind, an elixir of the gods. These were a Lions Sauternes, 2013 and a MAD Tokaji Late Harvest, 2016.
The Wellington restaurant has a feel of exclusivity yet is open to the public. It is suitable for a get together with friends – there are even several private dining rooms – or an intimate date night. The service is welcoming and very professional, the food is excellent, the ambience is fun. It is part art gallery, part restaurant, part club. It is rock and roll, it is sexy, it is a great night out from start to finish. It reminds me of why I love London.
The Wellington Restaurant
91 Jermyn Street,
T: 020 36010063
Looking for something different? For easy, well cooked bistro style food we really like The Caxton Grill at St Ermin’s Hotel .
Or how about Anthony Demetre’s new restaurant, Wild Honey St James