Wild Honey St James – Anthony Demetre at Sofitel St James.
It’s a challenge indeed to take a successful formula and reinvent it so that it is even better. That challenge applies to Wild Honey St James on two counts. Firstly, Balcon, the restaurant which preceded Wild Honey at Sofitel St James was delightful and somewhere I was always happy to visit. True, it wasn’t Michelin star dining, but I don’t think I ever had a bad meal there. Secondly, Anthony Demetre is perhaps best known in London for his Michelin starred ‘Wild Honey’ in Mayfair, a restaurant that closed earlier in 2019 after 12 years of holding that Michelin star. While I never ate there, I know it had a reputation for excellent, unfussy French dining. And, I’m just a little sad it closed before I managed to visit. No matter though, when one restaurant door closes another opens and I used the excuse of a friend’s birthday to book us into the recently opened Wild Honey St James.
The refurbished space is simpler and the table layout (probably my only gripe with Balcon) has improved. There’s still a reasonably priced set menu, two courses at lunch will set you back £23 and three £27. And there’s a neat, appealing a la carte that tempted all of us away from the entirely acceptable set menu.
While I started with a glass of English fizz, my companion enjoyed the ‘I am very specific with my Negroni’. Refreshingly, the wine and spirits list is reasonably priced – my fizz at £14 a glass and his Negroni at £12. Our third guest was driving and avoided an aperitif. But somehow I think he’ll be back soon.
My picture-perfect salad of English peas with lemon, honey and radish was the kind of dish I wish I could whip up in my own kitchen. A dish of garden fresh peas with a light mousse sounded like a healthy option but turned out to be a luxurious indulgence.
My companions, meanwhile, feasted on grilled Cornish sardines with a summer vegetable vinaigrette and on one of the more complex sounding dishes on the menu – smoked eel with cucumber, horseradish, chervil and roast hazelnuts. The birthday boy’s eel didn’t disappoint and we all loved the delicate presentation. At £14 this was one of the more expensive starters but worth every penny.
I was torn when it came to ordering the main course. I could have eaten any one of the dishes on the menu.
Classic Bouillabaisse though, is a dish that really showcases the cooking skills of the chef. It needs a rich soup that contrasts with perfectly cooked fish. And, it’s something you seldom see on the menu. I wasn’t disappointed at all by the deconstructed version which appeared – a substantial rouille complementing the rich creamy soup and delicate fish.
The birthday boy picked ‘Daphne’s Welsh lamb’ which comes with fresh sheep’s ricotta, crisp sweetbreads and summer vegetables. For me, there were two tests. Sweetbreads are notoriously difficult to cook well – I’ve often been served with little rubber bullets. Here, so I learnt, they were perfect. In my book, lamb should be pink, tender and not too fatty. My companion was offered beautifully sweet and delicate meat with a great charred crust, a bonus that is rare.
A main course of roast young chicken with girolles and Italian green beans and saute potatoes was delicious and really quite substantial. We agreed that this would work well as a sharing dish (and, in fact, did all get to taste).
Birthday boy, making the most of his special day, ordered a warm chocolate soup with toasted rice ice cream for dessert. But I was quite full and had noticed coffee arriving for the next-door table with a plate of canalé, curious little cakes from Bordeaux that made correctly have a thick, sweet and sticky crust and a soft custardy centre. On checking, I discovered these came as routine with the coffee, so of course, then had to order a double espresso. At Wild Honey, the canalé are topped with a salted caramel truffle, which we all ate separately – a kind of double win!
Meanwhile, the restaurant brought out a little dessert platter and candle for the birthday boy and, given the presence of some delicious macarons I was happy to have skipped my own dessert. That said, we were so impressed with the warm chocolate soup we completely forgot to take any photos!
During the afternoon, Wild Honey St James has a café-style menu – and I’m keen to go back and check that out. From what I experienced, this is a genuinely excellent reinvention of a venue that is both convenient and just far enough off the beaten track to be a peaceful dining option. The food was simple, perfectly cooked and sensitively presented, with those neat little additions that elevate the ordinary. Service was exemplary – and best of all, no one tried to sing happy birthday!
Wild Honey St James
8 Pall Mall,
London, SW1Y 5NG
Weekdays 6:30am – 10:30am
Weekends 7:00am – 11:00am
Monday to Saturday 12:00pm – 2:30pm
Sunday 12:30pm – 5:00pm
5:00pm – 10:30pm
Sunday 5:00pm – 9:30p
020 7968 2900
Afternoon Tea is still served in the Rose Lounge at Sofitel St James
For more about this area of London check out our post on St James’s and Victoria.