Sitwell stirs it up

Our critic at Julie’s Res­tau­rant and Cham­pagne Bar in Hol­land Park

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Wil­liam Sitwell vis­its an old favourite re­born

Julie’s Res­tau­rant and Cham­pagne Bar

135 Port­land Road, Lon­don W11 4LW 020-7229 8331 julies­restau­rant.com

Star rat­ing

★★★★☆

Lunch for two

£110 ex­clud­ing al­co­hol and ser­vice

Julie’s, in Lon­don’s Hol­land Park, is open again af­ter be­ing shut for a few years and hav­ing a ma­jor re­fit. Gone is the large court­yard – flogged to a neigh­bour – and it’s not quite the rab­bit war­ren it once was. There is no pri­vate din­ing room, the naughty cur­tained-off al­coves in the base­ment don’t feel quite as saucy, and the place has been washed over with a sort of Ot­toman grandeur: wood carv­ings, dec­o­ra­tive pan­elling, rich fab­ric and stained glass. Rather won­der­fully, the decor has been done by Julie Hodgess her­self – the orig­i­nal de­signer and pro­pri­etor.

There was one thing miss­ing upon its re­open­ing, though: a phone num­ber. Yes, I know we mod­ern­ers only want to book ta­bles via dig­i­tal-reser­va­tions apps, but it makes life fairly im­pos­si­ble if you then want to change a book­ing or let them know you are run­ning late. As the evening ap­proached, I found I had to can­cel the reser­va­tion. Af­ter sev­eral at­tempts, I suc­cess­fully man­aged to can­cel a ta­ble for two at a Lon­don nail bar called Julie’s. When I fi­nally got a num­ber, I called and pleaded that they pub­lish it on the web­site, which they now do.

Though I’ll ad­mit that I needed to change the reser­va­tion sim­ply be­cause I was too full from lunch (a haz­ard of my job) and I did pro­fess an apol­ogy amid the grumpi­ness. It re­minded me of a story my fa­ther once told me about an African leader in Lon­don for a Com­mon­wealth sum­mit. He was seated next to the Queen for din­ner, ex­cept that he never showed up. Fran­tic calls were made to his ho­tel, where the an­swer came that His Ex­cel­lency apol­o­gises to Her Majesty, but re­grets to say that he is not hun­gry.

The fol­low­ing day, my hunger re­turned, and so did I to Julie’s. Once again I had booked on­line, but was un­able to get a ta­ble for 1pm, only 1.15pm. Busi­ness must be good, I thought. With a friend, we were led by a girl down to that well dec­o­rated but empty base­ment room. ‘Is the court­yard still here?’ I asked. ‘I don’t speak English,’ she replied.

There had been oth­ers seated in an up­stairs area, so I asked a man who shared knowl­edge of my mother tongue if there were many oth­ers booked down here. ‘We don’t have an ex­treme num­ber of book­ings,’ he replied. A rather won­der­ful way of say­ing, ‘We have no book­ings down here.’ So we changed ta­bles and went up­stairs, where it was light and airy and there were other hu­mans.

The menu is what I would de­scribe as posh coun­try-house ho­tel. Food is im­mac­u­lately pre­sented and cooked with con­sid­er­able fi­nesse. But while I know the lo­cals round this part of Lon­don are se­ri­ously minted, it’s not ex­actly your lively lo­cal for, say, Sun­day lunch with fam­ily and friends. With main cour­ses av­er­ag­ing £30 a head, I fear this won’t be the heav­ing es­tab­lish­ment of old. And the chef does that thing of glaz­ing your food in a pan with but­ter, so that my ex­traor­di­nar­ily good piece of salt-marsh lamb with gar­lic pota­toes and a piece of crisp, breaded lamb breast left my mouth coated with but­ter – which does make one sip more of their fab­u­lous wine, but I can only ever eat such food as a rare treat un­less I want my ar­ter­ies clog­ging up.

My starter was a beau­ti­ful plate of risotto topped with crispy kale and a dol­lop of crab: fault­less per­fec­tion. A rice pud­ding – creamy and flecked with Rice Krispies – was the bet­ter of the two puds, the mus­co­v­ado sponge not as rich as I’d hoped for.

Julie’s, now 50, has be­come prop­erly posh and stylish. With a fan­tas­tic wine list and a con­vivial at­mos­phere, it’s more spe­cial oc­ca­sion than neigh­bour­hood gaff, but as they now have a phone I’d be churl­ish not to firmly rec­om­mend it.

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