WILTON'S: TO THE MANNER BORN
As Fathers are wont to do ours filmed a lot of the Christmas festivities: the opening of the presents, the drinking of the Champagne; the Christmas Dinner, the drinking of the Champagne; the lighting of the Pudding, the drinking…well you get the idea.
I was watching the little production Baba had made the other day when I caught myself wondering who the lardy was stuffing his face and looking like a beached walrus waiting for his next feed. Not HS, he was playing the impenetrable Wii Pokemon with our nephew. Dear reader, that Jabba was me.
Time catches up with all of us and an excess of rich food and alcohol hadn’t burned off like what it oughta. A little regime change was in order. So for two weeks after Christmas (impressive huh ?) I stayed off the firewater. God, it was boring though - there’s only so many bottles of Fentiman’s, cups of tea and glasses water a man can drink. Enough was enough.
Having already booked Wilton’s just before Christmas it seemed like a suitable venue to swan-dive off the wagon I’d been marooned on. So on a cold January evening I made my way through Mayfair whose streets were seemingly unaffected by the snow falling in less tony burbs.
I don’t know how old Rules – London’s oldest restaurant – is, but Wilton’s surely pushes it close. And like Rules, possibly even more so, once inside with your derrière parked in the snug fitting chairs, you feel completely cosseted against the outside world. This is the sort of place for people who find J Sheekey a bit risqué and Dean Street Townhouse, well, unspeakable.
I’d actually visited because the Head Chef of just a few months was Andrew Turner, someone whose cooking I enjoyed at The Landau a couple of years ago. I was interested to see what he could bring to what I already knew would be a menu chock full of classic Fish and Game dishes. Well the answer was, apparently, not a lot. Save for a tasting menu that failed to set the pulses racing and to which most of the other diners gave little more than a cursory glance, it was business as usual. I suspect that’s the way the regulars like it. Where this leaves a creative force like Mr Turner I’m not entirely sure.
When confronted with a menu like this there is little point in trying to finesse things. Keep it simple and go for the best always works for me. A dozen Colchester Natives were decent-sized specimens with that long, minerally length typical of the variety. A lot of the briny juice which adds to the pleasure of eating Oysters had been lost when opening them, but combined with half a bottle of Krug it was hardly slumming it.
From one classic to another. Dover Sole doesn’t appear on too many restaurant menus, maybe owing to its frightening cost. Here, I reckon they don’t have too many problems shifting them. The fish had been grilled on the bone and was pretty much perfect. Thick and firm with quite a subtle flavour it put me in mind of seafood dishes in Spain where the preparation and service is similarly minimalist. A blob of tartare sauce was creamy but a tad over-acidulated – the last glass of the Krug was a better match.
Woodcock is one of the most prized of the game birds. A relatively short season and comparative rarity means it doesn’t come cheap but if it’s available it’s always worth ordering. The meat was gamey without being overly so, such that the taste of the flesh is masked. The guts, traditionally spread on toast were served here as a small quenelle. The head was rent in twain so the brains could be sucked out (or crunched as in my case. Speaking of which, this is usually the most challenging part of the bird tastewise but in this case it was quite mild.
The combo was finished off with some decent bacon, fried breadcrumbs and a bread sauce that had a good consistency but needed more of a clove ‘kick’, although that word seems wholly inappropriate in a restaurant like Wilton’s.
Of course, once I’d made a rule about not getting all clever with the menu I had to go and break it by not ordering something simple like Ice Cream or Trifle, instead choosing the mysterious Chef’s Dessert of the day. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very good pudding of today or indeed any day. An assembly of Poached Pears, Ice Cream and Chocolate sauce was let down by pears that were still hard. Next time I’m going for the crumble.
Pudding aside though, I had a fine time at Wilton’s. Service was predictably good and the prices, although aimed firmly at Mayfair wallets, were commensurate with ingredients that were of exemplary quality and that were treated properly. By the end of my meal, I was so cosy and well-fed that it was a bit of a wrench to drag me and my corpulent arse out into the cold. Ok, I may be getting old but I think I’ve discovered the perfect restaurant for my retirement years…interspersed with the odd visit to Rules when I fancy a bit of excitement.