Ta­ble talk

Wil­liam Sitwell at Wild Honey

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Wil­liam Sitwell Wild Honey St James 8 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5NG 020-7968 2900 wild­honeyst­james.co.uk

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

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