William Sitwell at Wild Honey
FOR 10 YEARS, Wild Honey was a cute restaurant in Mayfair. It was a narrow space with booths and a feeling of intimate conspiracy, fuelled by Frenchinspired cuisine.
Then it closed. And people like me muttered things like, ‘Even great chefs like Anthony Demetre aren’t immune to the brutal culls of the restaurant business.’ Demetre was the chef of Wild Honey. He also ran a place called Arbutus in Soho, which closed in 2016. Then he got into vermouth and opened Vermuteria in Coal Drops Yard, a reclaimed patch of land north of King’s Cross, now itching with funky restaurants and shops.
Then, a year after Wild Honey closed for ever, it was reborn in a Sofitel. This came as a surprise. The two things seemed a little incongruous. I’m sure there are squillions of Sofitels around the world, but the one I know is at Gatwick. We sometimes stay there, slightly extravagantly, when we’ve booked a savagely early flight for a summer holiday. It takes the edge off a night during which you check you haven’t missed the alarm every hour, and when you do sleep you even dream you slept through it. There’s the blearyeyed drive to the airport and various panics en route: did you leave something behind? A passport or a child? Did you lock the front door, cancel the papers, leave the lights on? How the hell did the cat get in the car without you realising?
Check into Sofitel and everything’s
a breeze. Champagne in Le Ciel, a Thai dinner. You can rise 10 minutes before check-in and when you draw back the curtains, naked, you realise your window overlooks the car park.
It’s all very romantic. And then Wild Honey opens in a Sofitel, but not the one we know and love. But maybe this is a stepping stone. Doubtless Demetre’s deal with Sofitel makes more sense than the insane rent he was likely paying in Mayfair.
Of course, it didn’t feel anything like Wild Honey. Here on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place, the ceilings are vast. Swirling lights on lines of metal hang from the ceiling, along with other lights shaded by astronomical globes. There are circular pieces of marble everywhere, which I kept thinking were clocks, except they didn’t have hands.
There was a nice-looking bar with a few tall velvet-cushioned seats but no one sitting there – or indeed anywhere near it. And just ahead of our giant, rippling banquette – the folds so vast I thought we’d get sucked in – was a flight departures board.
Just kidding, but I can dream. The place is more Copernicus than old Wild Honey and the menu itself is a magic-carpet ride across Europe: Cornish sardines, gazpacho, burrata, Galician octopus, Welsh lamb, rabbit, pig’s head and barbecued quails. I felt quite dizzy thinking about it all.
If this place – renamed Copernicus – was at the airport you’d understand all the space-like lights and sculptures and dishes that matched all the destinations you could fly to.
Emily had the ‘Andalusian-style’ gazpacho, which was smooth and blended, but came with cubes of cucumber and tomato among pea shoots, which you could mix in for texture. It was incredibly good – the garlic and cool temperature completely on the button.
I had seen the words ‘cacio e pepe ’so went for that. The peppery concept flavoured the most extraordinarily, bravely almost uncooked but just perfect macaroni with a few bits of crisp and boneless chicken wing. This was a moreish dream. I could have eaten six times the amount on the plate.
But thank God for the chef ’s restraint. Because next up was bouillabaisse. I didn’t realise it was possible to make fish soup this rich. It came in pieces: a frying pan with fish, leeks and potato, a plate of large croutons, a dish of rouille, and a burning-hot dish of soup.
This was DIY heaven. I spooned bits from each pan or plate into my bowl; the sum of the parts just gloriously epic. It was like my own private buffet. I kept going back for more bits and it seemed to go on for ever. The stock must have been heroic and no fish could ever imagine that they could be transformed by man into this feast.
Emily offered me a taste of her Cornish cod with white beans, peas and girolles, but I was way too busy and involved, no matter how fantastic she said it was.
I spotted a dessert called chocolate soup that was tempting, but not possible. If Wild Honey was at Gatwick we’d spend all summer catching earlymorning flights.
No fish could ever imagine that they could be transformed by man into this epic feast
Above Cacio e pepe with crisp chicken wings. Below Wild Honey’s bouillabaisse