Recently refurbished, a classic airy West End ‘business’ restaurant whose new formula should now give it somewhat broader appeal.
After a month’s refurbishment, this airy St James’s restaurant recently opened with tarted-up décor (in much the same style as before), as well as a new chef and a new menu ‘concept’.
It’s perhaps a blessing that the interior is pretty much unchanged, as this place should really have a preservation order slapped on it. The mid-’90s dream of young ex-Warburg banker Chris Bodker, it was innovative in its design to a degree that a younger restaurant-goer today would find hard to appreciate.
With its lofty and clean-lined interior, this was one of the earliest examples of what you might describe as ‘Manhattan’ style in London restaurants. (And, in the West End proper, planning constraints ensure it remains quite a rarity to this day.)
Curiously, however, its plain white-painted walls still manage to give a rather quaintly ‘budget’ impression, compared to equivalent launches of today. Back in those far-off times, spending £1m on a restaurant was considered rather remarkable in itself: the impression had not yet formed that it was necessary to ‘finish’ every interior surface visible to the customer to within an inch of its life.
Over the years, the restaurant has rarely shone gastronomically, but it has long been popular as a West End rendezvous, most particularly for business, its very anonymity somehow an asset. On this front, nothing has really changed.
Current owners D&D (the former Conran Restaurants), however, have taken advantage of the recent revamp to bring in both a new chef, and a new culinary concept. The food is now solidly English, and most dishes can be ordered in smaller or larger portions.
Our test meal for one – which made a good lunch, and would have been just as satisfactory pre-theatre – comprised an excellent Jerusalem artichoke soup (one size only), a small portions of fish and chips (not of Hix standard, but good) and another of ham and cabbage (broadly comparable). Bread and coffee were impressive.
With one glass of wine, the bill was £33, plus (in accordance with the group’s new policy) an optional tip, so say £37.50 all in. For a pleasant meal, notably well served, this struck us as good value for an establishment whose location really is quite hard to beat. This really is a pretty ‘useful’ destination nowadays, and not just for a business lunch.