It may not be that wild any more, but this restaurant is most definitely sweet
In an age where many London restaurants are closing their doors forever, it’s heartening to see that at least a select few are beating the odds. Wild Honey holds a special place in my gluttonous history as it was one of the first restaurants in the capital that teased me out of my culinary safe zone. As a spotty, wild-haired youth more accustomed to scoffing ho fun, keema naan and a Green Lanes shish kebab (sometimes all in one sitting), Wild Honey’s French-British neo-brasserie-esque style of cooking was a revelation to my cloistered little brain.
Despite having to close up shop at its original Mayfair location opposite St George’s Church, it has landed on its feet at a new location inside the Sofitel near Pall Mall. The original Wild Honey was a cosy and intimate space with wood-panelled walls and more banquettes than you can shake a soup-stained napkin at. Its new digs are far grander – a palatial high-ceilinged room accessible directly from the tastefully plush Sofitel lobby.
This more Palladian atmosphere doesn’t have the same easy-going warmth of the original Wild Honey – perhaps this will change with time. Despite this shift, the service was as polished as ever. While the menu has undergone some refinement and twiddling, it still has some of the same Wild Honey classics that so bewitched me all those years ago from the rabbit saddle to the eponymous honey ice cream.
Starters at Wild Honey St James
I’d give an arm and eight legs for Wild Honey’s rendition of octopus. Crisp then firm and bouncy, the meaty tentacle came with neatly sweated leeks and an umami mixture of minced capers and tomatoes.
Lightly smoky eel somehow managed to be simultaneously delicate yet meaty, with its qualities heightened by the accompanying pate. Briney dill-accented cucumbers were reasonably effective as a palate cleanser to this suitably titllating starter.
Although the burrata came with various accompaniments and garnishes, these were merely so-so. There was no quibbling with the dairy queen itself though – the elastic exterior encapsulated a cool and milky liquid centre.
Macaroni served with chicken wings sounds like the sort of low-effort, little skill required semi-fast food found at so many of London’s new restaurants. This dish should not be underestimated though. The pale sauce coated my mouth with a creamy milkiness and strident, freshly grated pepper that never became overwhelming despite its bold qualities. Neatly deboned, the chicken wings were not only moist but unexpectedly gamey and earthy. The only disappointment here, and a mild one at that, were the surprisingly large macaroni. While far from bad, the moderately firm pasta tubes won’t give Lina Stores any sleepless nights.
Gazpacho was the ideal starter for a balmy summer’s evening, the cool liquid brimming with a crisp vegetal sweetness and interspersed with crisp, crunchy toasted breadcrumbs. Refreshing, tantalising and flavoursome.
Main courses at Wild Honey St James
Wild Honey’s classic roast saddle of rabbit was that rarest of things – a dish that was even better than the version held in my inevitably rose-tinted memory. Firm and springy, then muscular in its meatiness and riven with occasional strands of fat and sinew, each roll was a many-splendored thing. An accompaniment of rabbit cottage pie was well-accomplished in its own right, even though it inevitably couldn’t hold a candle to the saddle. A reasonably dense, fatty and moreish mound of shoulder meat was topped with fluffy mash. Crisp, bittersweet greens and sweet carrots were an effectively refreshing counterpoint to the relative heaviness of the bunny meat. This dish was so good, I never wanted it to end.
Tender but surprisingly anodyne lamb came with similarly shrug-inducing sweetbreads and vegetables.
Cod was cooked just-so, the crisped skin hiding sticky, juicy medallions of fish. Briney cockles somehow boosted both the creaminess of the borlotti beans and the umami of the tomatoes. The superlative texture of the cod and the expertly crafted flavour of the accompaniments made this dish a delight to savour.
Wild Honey wears its Gallic influences lightly, with the bouillabaisse one of the more obvious influences from our neighbours across the Channel. It was served in the traditional fashion with the fish and veg served out of the broth to prevent sogginess. The firm, meaty hunks of halibut feel like a neatly decadent and Anglo-American twist though, as did the tenderised potatoes and supple, sweated leeks. The broth had an umami bisque-like flavour, an intimately conjoined snog of shellfish, white fish and caramelised onions. Its deeply musky earthiness, umami and evocation of sea salt was enhanced even further when taken with the sweet sharpness of the exuberantly briney rouille. It’s not quite a traditional version of bouillabaisse and is all the better for it.
Wild Honey’s sea bass was a far cry from the leaden, overcooked slab found at so many restaurants, pubs and food courts across the capital. Cooked just-so, each flake of fish glistened delicately in the faint light and yet was satisfyingly meaty too. Its gently salty evocation of the sea contrasted neatly with the sweet aniseedish flavour of the supple greens.
Side dishes at Wild Honey St James
A fricassee of peas, broad beans and lettuce was sprightly and crisp with a surprisingly salty, milky sauce that gave this side dish a bold, winsome identity all its own.
A salad of tomatoes and shallots was suitably sweet and umami, but it was difficult to appreciate the finely chopped shallots.
Neatly softened baby potatoes came in a generous slick of seaweed butter. But the latter could only truly be appreciated in all its umami glory by dredging chunks of bread through its green-gold rivulets.
Desserts at Wild Honey St James
Wild Honey’s signature ice cream was a textural delight – smooth and free of errant ice crystals yet as thick as clotted cream. It contrasted neatly with the feather light meringue that melted away neatly on the tongue rather than shattering or snapping, as well as with the crunchiness of the crushed honeycomb. While the latter was unmistakably sweet, Rodan was disappointed as he was expecting large sheathes of honeycomb dripping with decadent viscosity. As long as you don’t let your expectations get similarly out of hand, then you’ll likely enjoy this elegantly well-crafted dessert just as much as I did.
The pastry of the custard tart was consistently even in its thinness, while the cool filling was milky and lightly eggy. It’s perhaps a little too sedate if you’re used to French or Portuguese-style custard tarts, which perhaps explains why Wild Honey’s version comes with various accompaniments. Unfortunately, these were only mildly successful in pepping up this custard tart. This custard tart is by no means bad, but it’s far from my first choice amongst Wild Honey’s desserts.
Warm chocolate ‘soup’ was more like a thick yet light and bittersweet mousse. Silky smooth toasted rice ice cream was fine in terms of mouthfeel, but most of its toasted rice flavour came from the gussied-up rice krispies scattered all over. This dessert just didn’t come together and felt as if the pastry chef was struggling to make the preconceived idea of a ‘chocolate soup’ work rather than melding naturally complimentary ingredients and techniques together towards an end state that best expresses all of them.
Squidgy cherries were almost glacé-like in their sugary sweetness. Milky, distinctively nutty almonds and almond cream neatly offset both the candy-like sweetness of the cherries and the sour sweetness of the bracingly refreshing cherry sorbet. An eminently flavoursome summer dessert.
Basil sorbet sounds bonkers, but the distinctive taste and scent of that herb worked surprisingly well as a refreshing dessert. It’s available with either strawberries or roasted figs, with the latter blending well with the sorbet. The pairing was so apt, it was almost as if the distinctively mellow sweetness of the figs was forged in the fires of creation – by whatever god you believe in – to accompany that basil sorbet.
It’s worth ordering tea or coffee – not for the hot drinks themselves, but for the accompanying caneles. A sort of petit four, these little cakes had an initial salted caramel hit followed up by a sumptuous brown sugar richness coursing through each dense, chewy mouthful.
Wild Honey has risen from the ashes in triumphant fashion. While not everything is perfect, the food is still – for the most part – an elegantly delightful affair that makes skilful, accomplished cooking look far easier than it actually is. It remains to be seen whether the currently hushed atmosphere will ever recapture the fun of the Mayfair original and if the demands of being a hotel restaurant will stifle the kitchen’s whimsical impulses. Even so, Wild Honey is a welcome refuge, not just from an age of seemingly endless restaurant closures. But also from the increasing spate of new London restaurants cynically pumping out low-skill, high-gloss dishes to deal with both the shortage of chefs worthy of the title and to pander to the whims of Instagram. Wild Honey is a restaurant for grown-ups and I’m immensely glad that it’s back.
Name: Wild Honey St James
Address: Sofitel, 8 Pall Mall, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5NG
Phone: 0207 968 2900
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon-14.30 and 17.00-22.30. Sunday 12.30-21.30.
Reservations? highly recommended on and around weekends.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £70 approx. (£45-50 approx. if you stick to the set menu)