Having wanted to try this restaurant for some time I booked a table for a Friday night dinner with friends. The dinning room is lovely and light but the tables are set very close together and I felt a bit more creative thought could have gone into how the tables were set out. However, this was not a big issue as we were there for the food and a fun evening out.
Unsurprisingly, the menu is unapologetically French and there were many things that I could have chosen. In the end I started with the lamb sweetbreads, which were well cooked but a little under seasoned, although there was sea salt and a pepper grinder on the table which sorted the problem, although it should have come from the kitchen not needing adjustment at the table. The ladies both had the scallops which were a hit, as was the terrine of ham with celeric remoulade. Warm mini french sticks were brought out both before and during our starter and were of a good standard, accompanied by good butter. We selected a bottle of Gavi to accompany the starters, which was good but highlighted the fact that whilst there was plenty of emphasis on French wines, the majority was to be found very much towards the top end of the price spectrum. There was very little to choose in the £30 – £40 price range, the Gavi just slipping into this bracket.
For mains, two chose the Daube de Boeuf, one the mackerel with samphire and one the Cassoulet. The mackerel was well received and enjoyed. The Daube was a beautifully cooked beef cheek, which was incredibly tender and fell apart at the slightest touch. What was slightly disappointing was that the sauce it was accompanied with was not as thick and intense as I would have liked it, still very pleasant but not quite the full on experience I had expected. The beef was also under seasoned, which seams to be a bit of a theme here. The Cassoulet came in a pot that was big enough to feed two people (and did in the end!) and whilst it was full of flavour, was slightly drier than a good cassoulet should be, as if it had been left standing for too long.
We had a bottle of 2008 Bordeaux to accompany our mains, as recommended by the sommelier, which was fine but not as elegant as it should have been, especially at nearly £60 a bottle, plus service. Whilst there was a variety of reasonably priced reds from other parts of Europe and even the Americas (there are a couple of reasonably priced Chilean bottles if that is your thing) the emphasis, quite rightly, is on France and the majority of these were expensive for what they were. For example, the cheapest bottle of Burgundy is just a few pennies shy of £40 and they rise very quickly thereafter. There are times when you simply want a good solid middle market bottle to drink with friends, rather than savour every mouthful and I feel the list does not offer as much choice from France in this area as perhaps it could, which is a shame. If this restaurant were in Paris there would be a huge selection of good French wine at sensible prices to choose from, perhaps the St James location has influenced the pricing strategy too much.
For dessert we had the sauternes custard with prunes and the hot beignets. The beignets were very well cooked and came with a chocolate and caramel sauce, although both were good I would have liked the caramel to be a little richer and deeper in flavour. No such issues with the sauternes custard, which were set and simply divine, truly a stand out dish. This was washed down with a glass of sauternes which was pleasant but not really doing the dessert any real justice.
The service we had was on the whole competent but also at times a little clunky, being interrupted mid conversation to be asked whether we wanted more wine, water, dessert, coffees, showed a lack of awareness but overall competent. What was a slight shame is just how quiet the restaurant was for a Friday night, a couple of tables where there were business dinners and a few other couples but not by any means a full which meant that it did not have quite the “buzz” as it could have, not really the restaurant's fault but a shame nonetheless.
Overall we had a nice meal and enjoyed ourselves. The food was universally good, particularly the desserts, but it would not have taken very much to make the mains in particular something that was truly memorable and with a little more attention in the kitchen I think they could be producing food that is of an exceptional standard. The acid test is whether we would go back and the answer is a firm yes, particularly when the weather gets better as there is a lovely terrance for al fresco dinning. A few tweaks and this place could be sensational, as it is a solid recommendation but room for improvement.