What: The next incarnation of celebrated Mayfair restaurant Wild Honey. The restaurant can now be found on the south side of Piccadilly at the Sofitel St James just off Pall Mall (it replaces The Balcon).
Who: High profile chef restaurateur Anthony Demetre. The chef is perhaps best known for Arbutus, which shook up the capital’s fine dining scene when it opened in 2006 with its more affordable and stripped back approach to fine dining. It pioneered a number of things now commonplace in conscientiously run restaurants, including smart use of less glamorous cuts, a refusal to waste anything and a large selection of wines offered by glass and carafe. Demetre and his then business partner Will Smith (no, not that one) followed up with Wild Honey a year or so later. Like Arbutus, the restaurant attracted a Michelin star soon after opening. It closed early this year.
The vibe: The grand ground floor, high-ceilinged space has had a major overhaul. Gone is the once eponymous balcony and so too are the windy stairs that led up to it. The restaurant has a far more contemporary look - there is a smattering of modern art and the balcony has been sealed off with a striking hulk of weathered-looking metal - but retains the feel of a brasserie.
The food: Demetre may have been on the scene for a while but his à la carte menu of gutsy French dishes feels like a breath of fresh air. His cooking is unshowy but with a clear focus on proper cooking technique. Starters include spring vegetable ‘pistou’ soup with Parmesan, basil and olive oil; smoked eel, cucumber, horseradish, chervil and roast hazelnuts; and hand cut macaroni ‘cacio e pepe’ with crisp boneless chicken wings. The latter is fast becoming an unlikely Instagram hit (for anyone wondering how an earth the kitchen extracts the bones so neatly, the wings are very gently confit’d to the point they can be teased out). Mains include a roasted saddle of rabbit rolled skilfully around its own kidneys, barded with ham and served with a little shoulder cottage pie; and Cornish cod with a warm vinaigrette of cockles, borlotti beans, tomatoes and parsley.
And another thing: Although Wild Honey St James is inevitably not the bargain Arbutus was, prices are fair given the setting and the area with starters ranging from £8 to £17 and most of Demetre’s (unusually generous) main courses south of £30. Fans of Demetre’s cooking looking for something a bit more everyday should head to Vermuteria, the chef’s relaxed Vermouth themed cafe restaurant in Coal Drops Yard.