Sitwell stirs it up
Our critic at Julie’s Restaurant and Champagne Bar in Holland Park
Julie’s Restaurant and Champagne Bar
135 Portland Road, London W11 4LW 020-7229 8331 juliesrestaurant.com
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.