St. James’s Hotel

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A small St James’s hotel and its restaurant are performing works of wonder with a friendly élan. Nick Hammond investigates…

There is a point at which a meal becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s a nebulous thing; but occasionally a dining experience becomes more akin to being involved in a living, breathing installation of art.

I reached that point at Seven Park Place.

I could reel off a list of the dishes my wife and I ate in a slightly stunned state (not sommelier Andrew’s fault, I hasten to add, who was charm personified as he skillfully navigated us, wine-wise, first through the spectacular flavours in front of us, then literally through subterranean burrows to the kitchen where we met Michelin-starred chef, William Drabble).

But when I now look at the degustation menu in front of me, it reads like a simple menu of quality dishes, not the earth moving intricacy that was the reality of our experience at this intimate, nine-table restaurant within the brilliant St James’s Hotel and Club.

St James Hotel lobster tail

So I’ll précis this extraordinary meal for you and just say that the moment the first forkful was nibbled, we looked at each other and mouthed ‘Wow.’ This was the gist of the next hour and a half.

My standout memory is a butter-poached lobster tail with English asparagus and sauce Maltaise (Hollandaise with blood orange juice). It was ethereal.

Between us, there were also fillets of John Dory in a parsley crumb, pink and astounding lamb, British cheeses, early season fruit and an over-arching sense of seasonality that reminded me of the dedication and precision of the best Japanese cooking.

The restaurant itself has a faintly Asian aura about and by the time we dined it was getting on and most of the other tables were already dawdling happily over their coffees and delectable home made chocolates and pastry treats.

It’s that sort of place. You don’t want to go anywhere – and you don’t have to. Book your table and it’s yours for as long as you wish.

St James Hotel restaurant

Seven Park Place is housed just within the discreet entrance to this famous old Five Star hotel and club – itself unobtrusive in the very best sense of the word. The two top suites – of which we were given one – don’t even have a floor number on the lift. You just pop your key in and up you go.

We had a large and comfortably furnished balcony, with views across the rooftops of St James and of The Tower, The Eye et al. Everything you’d expect from a hotel of this quality was on hand inside. The room was dark and quiet with curtains drawn. Spot on.

As always, staff make the ultimate difference. Front of House John strikes the perfect balance between your being host and your confidante; new(ish) Manager, Graham, has hopped across from The Goring, so you’re in safe hands there and Clement was omnipresent throughout our stay with a smile and deft touch.

After THAT meal, we wandered downstairs with Andre, exploring his Aladdin’s cave of fine wines. Tired but triumphant in a spotless kitchen (restaurant kitchens are always so much smaller than you think) was a patient Mr Drabble.

Enthused by his food and the not inconsiderable quantity of wine (a different delectation with each course) we quizzed him on provenance and availability, the source of his seafood and his ceaseless journey for the ultimate presentation of the very best fresh food. Maybe he’s different in front of a searing plancha with a dozen different orders lining up, but he seemed a gentle, thoughtful man and we left with our love for the universe overflowing.

St James Hotel suite

By the time I came down to my customary kipper excellence in the morning (Scoring 9 on my patented KipFax rating for its oily texture and accompanying lemon, only let down by the lack of bread and butter) Mr Drabble was already in the house I was told. And we’d left the poor devil in the kitchen at midnight.

All of the above makes our experience at Seven Park Place my meal of the year thus far by quite a distance. I suggest you crack on down to St James’s Hotel and acquaint yourself with a quite wonderful hotel; and, in particular, the artistic brush strokes of Mr Drabble.

I have a sneak that his second Michelin star may be rising it its firmament.

St James’s Hotel and Club, 7-8 Park Place, St James’s, London, SW1A 1LS, Tel +44 (0)207 316 1600, www.stjameshotelandclub.com.

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