Wild Honey and Arbutus were two of the landmark restaurants of the late noughties and their chef-patron Anthony Demetre one of the most consistently inventive British chefs of the past 20 years. The closure of both restaurants was a sad loss for London dining but the spirit of Wild Honey has been re-incarnated at the Sofitel St James.
There’s no escaping the hotel feel of what was formerly the Balcon restaurant, a large space split between a toffee leather and blue-grey velvet-furnished dining room and a bar for cocktails and charcuterie. Sofitel’s French ownership, meanwhile, lends a literal Gallic accent to proceedings, with staff who wish you a cheery ‘bonsoir!’. It also imbues a slightly surreal feel to a scene that couldn’t be any more English, with red London buses puttering past the creamy Regency architecture outside.
Demetre’s cooking, however, remains as distinctive as ever. Is there any other chef who can elevate pistou soup - basically vegetable broth - into something that tastes like a rite of spring? Excellent sourcing, meanwhile, includes a plate of salt-scattered and sun-kissed Sardinian tomatoes that taste purely, absolutely of tomato.
Elsewhere, a fat curl of octopus tentacle has its assertively maritime flavour amplified by smoked cod’s roe. Welsh lamb gets a perfect partner with sweetbreads (speared by edible skewers) while cacio e pepe macaroni with chicken wings delivers on the promised comfort of bronzed chook and creamy cheese. Desserts are as tempting as can be, thanks to the likes of warm chocolate soup with toasted rice ice cream, and roasted black Provencal figs served with mascarpone sorbet.
With Imperial Treasure next door, Milos over the road and rumours of a big-name American chef opening in the old Villandry site opposite, this once forgotten corner of St James’s is gradually evolving into a restaurant destination of impressive sophistication. Wild Honey might have lost the cosy charm of its Mayfair premises but its cooking still hits the sweet spot.