The move from Mayfair to Sofitel's flagship hotel in St James's has had no effect on the quality or the independent style of chef Anthony Demetre's cooking. James Stagg reports.
It may be located in the flagship Sofitel London St James hotel, operated by Accor, but Wild Honey St James still retains the independent spirit that made it such a success in Mayfair. Its new home on Pall Mall, which launched in spring 2019, is a suitably grand affair with 110 covers set over two levels, with double-height ceilings and a variety of statement lighting illuminating the restaurant and modern art on display.
Though the surroundings may be loftier, the menu, devised by Anthony Demetre, retains the classical French style combined with the commitment to the best seasonal British produce for which he is known. He has brought his trusted suppliers with him too, ensuring the continuity and quality he demands.
"If they weren't already, Brexit has made people think they have to buy more local," he explains. "I live in Ealing and there's a grocer's there that is phenomenal. We buy our veg from him. In terms of seasonality, it's what I've always done and what every cook should be doing."
With staffing an issue in Demetre's kitchen, like so many others – he is currently running a brigade of seven – the menus have been rationalised to reflect the limited resources, while the restaurant is now open five days a week rather than seven.
"Central London will see numbers dwindle further this summer, I think, so I'm toying with closing another day and everyone doing eight shifts over four days," he adds. "It's still four long days, but at least they have three days off. In September we'll be back to five days."
On a typical service a selection of sharing plates is on offer, including the likes of finocchiona, a traditional Tuscan salami (£9), alongside three starters, four mains and four desserts. A lunch menu, with three courses for £32 and two for £27, is available, while Demetre has also introduced a tasting menu, which has taken off.
"I launched it because I've reduced the à la carte – and we've had big uptake. It was originally just Friday and Saturday evenings, but now it's every night," he says.
One dish that will never leave the menu is a starter of slow-cooked crisp chicken wings and luxuriously silky, long-cut macaroni cacio e pepe (£14). The dish is made with what Demetre describes as "the Schwarzenegger of wings". "You have to have dishes that are crowd-pleasers," he says. "You can have things that are esoteric, but they can't be too scary. Nike doesn't stop making its classic shoes, and we keep our classics on the menu."
You have to have dishes that are crowd-pleasers. You can have things that are esoteric, but they can't be too scary
The jumbo wings are cooked overnight before being deboned and lightly pressed. Then they're chilled, crisped up, trimmed and served with the precisely prepared macaroni.
The Austrian beefcake comparison crops up again in a main course of roast saddle of rabbit, slow-cooked shoulder bun, ragoût of spring green vegetables, wild garlic and mead sauce (£29). Every part of the pumped-up, French-farmed bunny is used in the dish, apart from the legs, which are kept for the lunch menu.
"We keep all the offal intact," he says. "Legs off, shoulders off – which we confit and put in a bun. We bone the saddle, then sauté the kidney and the liver. We let them go cold and stuff them in the middle with some tarragon. It's then wrapped in cured ham and crépine, tied and left to set. It's then roasted and carved – but the offal is kept pink."
The chef always has at least one vegetable main on the menu, even when there are fewer choices. "I'm not moving away from meat at all – some people jump on the bandwagon," he explains. "I've been fortunate to work with cooks such as Gary Rhodes and Bruno Loubet, who prized vegetables as much as meat. For me, it has always been that way, but you have to buy well."
For his Middle Eastern-style Italian aubergines with raw cultured cream (£17), he uses round aubergines that are cut in half, scored and salted before being baked. The flesh is then combined with cooked-out onions, turmeric, dried mint, garlic and grated tomatoes for a flavourful stew tempered by the cream.
Desserts include the wild honey ice-cream, Bermondsey raw honeycomb and crisp wafers (£11), made with honey supplied by the restaurant's very own rooftop bee colony, but it's hard to look much further than Demetre's signature classic English custard tart (£9). "It never goes off the menu," he adds. "Everyone has grown up with them. We bake them fresh for each service, so they're nothing like the cracked in the middle tarts with soft pastry that people are used to. They're certain to leave diners happy."
8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5NG
From the menu
- Coppa: air-dried Tuscan ham with cinnamon, coriander, juniper and nutmeg £11
- Ham and cheese croquettes £9
- Wild mushroom tart, ragoût of Scottish girolles, sweet young peas, fresh almonds, almond sabayon £15
- Denbighshire Welsh lamb, roast and slow-cooked, grilled Vesuvio tomato, Trombetta courgettes £34
- Line-caught sea bass, Cornish mussel, parsley and chorizo chowder, Jersey Royals £27
- Warm 70% Honduran chocolate cake, wild honey ganache, Jersey milk ice-cream £12
- Provencal black cherry tart, crème fraîche £11
Portrait photography: Adrian Franklin
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