For 269 years Wiltons in St James’s has remained a bastion of faultless discretion, and the place to go for the finest of fine English dining
To walk into Wilton's is to enter an era long past. It’s a gentleman’s club with ladies, a hushed haven where carpets are thick and soft, so that nothing as vulgar as the clack of heel on bare floor should disturb the diners from the serious business of qua!ng oysters and dispatching game. Silver roasting trolleys are wheeled noiselessly around the room, their beautifully cooked contents revealed to Tory grandees, captains of industry, Dukes, Dames and debutantes alike.
This is a restaurant firmly fixed in the Edwardian age, and all the better for it. Waitresses, clad in properly pressed pinnies, are more nanny than everyday server. Woe betide the first-timer who dares answer his mobile, or turns up in trainers and scru"y jeans. Polished mahogany is the wood of choice, seen at the legendary bar, where you can watch Patrick Flaherty, a resident since 1963 and a maestro of mollusc opening, perform his magic. Or simply sip London’s finest Black Velvet, served in a silver mug. Should Matters of State or delicate diplomatic disputes need to be discussed, then one can retire to the back of the room, to the famous Pullman booths, bastions of old-school discretion.
And then there’s the menu, an elegant rebu" to those fools who think British food is all Marmite, grey mince and deep fried Mars bars. It’s a joy to read, patriotic gastro porn at its best. Smoked salmon from Lance Forman, wild salmon from the Spey, native oysters from West Mersea, perfect potted shrimps and fine smoked eel too. Beef comes from the Castle of Mey, grouse from the moors of Yorkshire. The hot beef consommé is the best in the world, glittering like melted amber, with a bovine depth that never ceases to amaze. The lobster cocktail is another old-school classic; fat chunks of Scottish shellfish draped in a rich, piquant Marie Rose sauce. These dishes are unashamedly retro, the greatest hits of our island history. You come here for comfort and succour, to feast upon beautiful ingredients treated with respect.
Growing up, Wiltons was a serious treat. And a couple of times per year we’d be ushered into this glorious cocoon, decanted into smart jackets and pretty dresses (my sister that is, not me) and arrive, cheeks gleaming and face scrubbed, to feast upon Dover sole, crab and avocado, and the plumpest, pinkest lamb cutlets, charred black by the grill. Or the mixed grill, with its proper bacon, serious sausage and delicate swirl of lamb’s kidney. Even then we knew we were somewhere special. So this is what grown-ups do, we thought. Lucky them.
Game cookery here is elevated to high art. And to eat a grouse at Wiltons, accompanied by the clearest of game gravy, proper, clove-spiked bread sauce, game chips and a bottle of serious claret, is sublime. It’s expensive, of course; everything here is. Eye-wateringly, mortgage-scaringly so. But you get exactly what you pay for. Not just a beautifully cooked game bird, pink and scented with heather, but the whole Wiltons experience.
Now that Andrew Turner is at the helm, things have got better still. He’s a hugely talented chef and his Turner set menu is modern, exciting but still very much in the Wiltons mould. Make no mistake, even the most modest of lunches will surpass a hundred a head without blinking. But Wiltons, in various shapes, forms and locations, has been around since 1742. Of course it has. Just like a Purdey, or John Lobb shoe, real quality endures through the ages.
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