Jermyn Street institution Wiltons Restaurant continues to provide immaculate service and cooking
Review by Rupert Watkins
Certain establishments personify a certain discreet and understated English charm and excellence. At the St James’s end of Jermyn Street, nestled behind a high polished wooden frontage lies Wiltons Restaurant. Serving immaculate and traditional English cooking, it has long had a reputation as a rather patrician haunt – it’s the sort of place one might lunch at if there’s no room round the corner in the coffee rooms at White’s or Boodle’s. That said, it has also been referenced in Mark Millar’s zany graphic novel Secret Service – the precursor to the Kingsman films.
Walking in you are confronted by elegant wooden panelling and the small and intimate bar – a splendid spot should you need a slightly quicker bite. My guest and I were taken through to our private booth at the back of the restaurant. The room is traditionally furnished with thick carpet, English racing green banquettes and highly starched tablecloth; a mixture of sporting and more Art Deco inspired artwork adorns the walls. It’s very much a mix of the country house drawing room and the morning room at The Turf club.
Perusing the menu, Wiltons historic emphasis on seafood (it traces its roots back to George Wilton opening his seafood stand off the Haymarket in 1742) and game shine through. Oysters, smoked salmon, venison and lamb bulk large on the page. My guest alighted on the Rockefeller oysters, beautifully baked and gently paddling in a sea of rich butter and parsley these were rapidly wolfed down. I went straight for the Whitebait (you so rarely see it on menus these days). These were magnificent; piled high on the plate they were the biggest examples I think I’ve ever seen, fresh with a lovely zing courtesy of the faintest sprinkling of cayenne pepper and paprika.
Our appetites well and truly stimulated, we enjoyed our bottle of Gigondas Domaine des Pallières “Terrasse du Diable” whilst waiting for a main courses to arrive. Light on the palette with deep raspberry hints on the nose it proved an elegantly drinkable companion to the meal. The wine menu is large with a traditionalist’s bias towards the Old World and some stunning rare wines. Whilst there is a spread of prices, running an eye over the wine list brings to mind the late Tory MP, roué and diarist Alan Clark’s quip that it’s impossible to not spend £100 or more on a decent claret when you’re out.
Wiltons is one of the last restaurants in London to retain the English tradition of the carving trolley. Whilst neither of us indulged, those seeking this civilised offering should beat a path to Jermyn Street. We though opted for duck and venison. The duck was beautifully done, rich and pink whilst my Rhug estate venison with Savoy cabbage was likewise beautifully cooked, gamey and clearly a well hung piece of meat. Side dishes of spinach and pureed peas proved apt and light accompaniment to these most hearty and traditional main courses. The restaurant spends a lot of time sourcing and nurturing long term relationships with its suppliers around the country – the resulting quality speaks for itself.
With the waistband starting to feel the strain, we opted to share a bread and butter pudding with custard, an old school but delicious desert, the custard flecked with fresh vanilla pods the way it should be. Coffee and a decadent selection of chocolate and nougat petit fours finished a wonderful evening. Throughout the service and attentiveness shown was of the very highest order; never overbearing but exceedingly well-drilled, friendly and courteous the staff are a credit to Wiltons and their profession.
There is no getting away from the prices at Wiltons – this is not for the financially faint of heart. The a la carte menu is in the region of £65 upwards a head and as mentioned the wine can be more than that again. However, there is a seasonal set menu at £35 for two courses and £43 for three. Alternately one could simply enjoy a plate a Whitebait or half a dozen oysters and a glass of something chilled and white at the bar, leaving the vulgarity of the modern world behind for an hour as you relax and revel in the gentlemanly atmosphere of this rather splendid institution.
Enquiries: Wiltons Restaurant, 55 Jermyn Street, St James’s, London SW1Y 6LX / 0207 6299955 / http://wiltons.co.uk/
Photography Kindly supplied by Wiltons