Fortnum and Mason, 181 Piccadilly
The St James’s Restaurant
If you like the finer things in life but are still financially recovering from Christmas, then a trip to Fortnum & Mason's St. James's Restaurant could be just what you’re looking for. From the 24 January - 13th March 2011, Fortnum's are offering a £15 menu across their collection of restaurants. Whether it's The St James's Restaurant, The Gallery, The Fountain or the 1707 Wine Bar you fancy frequenting, you can dine in style without breaking the bank.
Fortnum & Mason's, located just opposite The Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly, boasts five wonderful eateries - the best of which is arguably The St James's Restaurant situated on the fourth floor. This quintessentially English store first opened for business in 1707, with the aim of providing London's wealthy residents with the finest in specialty items and quality foods. By 1761, it had become a firm favourite with the Royal Family as a supplier of ready-to-eat gourmet foods, daring confectionaries and must-have treats. Indeed, the name Fortnum & Mason soon became synonymous with the word 'luxury'.
Pass through the revolving wooden doors of Fortnum & Mason today and that same sense of decadence and a yearning for the good life remain. Walking through the ground floor, (under glistening chandeliers, through the buzz of patrons, en route to the lift that would take us up to The St James's Restaurant), we were greeted by counters filled with giant marshmallows, assortments of Turkish Delight, oversized bags of honeycomb, slabs of flavoured fudges, chocolate & cranberry lollypops and delicate marzipan fruits. It was impossible to keep the smiles off our faces. We already knew that a visit to St James's was the perfect choice for a February afternoon.
Full of anticipation we stepped out of the lift into a room flooded with light. The classic English décor, huge sprays of white blossom petals, and pink and white lilies that adorn the St James's restaurant, instantly offered a welcome sanctuary from the bustling crowds of Piccadilly.
The manager welcomed us, checked us in, took our coats and showed us to our table. And walking further into the restaurant we immediately noticed the sunlight coming through the pale green and ivory duchess silk curtains which framed the windows. The staff, dressed in black and white, were well-groomed, well-informed, attentive, polite and able to anticipate our needs without seeming intrusive. Glasses were filled promptly as we opted to start with a jug of Fortnum’s fresh lemonade, made using lemon juice, sparkling water and sugar syrup (1.1L jug, £5.00). As the sun shone more determinedly through the window behind us, catching the silverware on the table, our waiter obligingly closed the blinds to ensure we were "perfectly comfortable".
On to the food: As you might expect, The St James's table d'hôte menu boasts a seductive offering of quality seasonal British ingredients. The menu provides a tempting array of meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian options. Decisions, decisions, delicious decisions… The £15.00 Two Course Lunch Menu Selection we sampled includes a delectable choice of starters. On offer was a Mushroom Soup with Cropwell Bishop Snippets, a Berkshire Wood Pigeon with a Walnut and Beetroot Salad - a culinary nod to the more daring among you - and Smoked Haddock Soufflé with and Apple and Celery Salad and spiced tomato compote.
The pigeon arrived perfectly plated on a bed of baby beetroot salad leaves and small cuts of boiled beetroot. It was cooked well: nicely pink on the inside and sufficiently seasoned and browned on the outside. If you've never had pigeon before, Fortnum & Mason isn't a bad place to start. It tasted succulent and flavourful - none too gamey, yet distinct in flavour and texture. A sample of the haddock revealed a light buttery smoked haddock encased in a perfectly fluffy soufflé. Accompanied with warm cooked apple and celery it made for an enviable choice of starter.
The timings between courses were sufficient enough to allow us a moment to take in the ornate decor of the St James's dinning room, along with its discerning patrons. Wealthy Japanese tourists sampling Afternoon Tea sat opposite sleek business types that spoke (in hushed tones) of "seductive off-shore investments", whilst mother and daughter couples indulged in the menu and each others company. Ladies that ("as a special treat") lunch at St James's once a month looked aplenty. “Isn’t this a wonderful way to spend time together” we heard one woman say - as if almost on cue.
For the main dish, we were asked to choose from succulent Braised Sharpham Park Lamb, Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke and Broccoli, a Fillet of Scottish Salmon, Buttered Leeks and Garlic Cream, or Pumpkin and Sage Risotto refined with Old Winchester Cheese. A glass of Fortnum’s Graves, Château de Cardaillan 2006 (175ml, £6.75), a medium-bodied red wine with cassis and mint flavours, accompanied our choice of the rich melt-in-the-mouth lamb and soft roasted artichoke. Fortnum’s Pouilly Fumé, J-C Chatelain 2008 (175ml, £6.75,) with its citrus, spice and mint flavours complimented the subtle leek and garlic cream sauce on the Salmon.
Desserts can be bought at an extra cost of £7.00. Following the first two courses, it proved impossible to resist temptation so we finished our lunch with Red Wine Poached Pear and Shortbread (made with lemon juice to give it a slightly citrus flavour, which cut through the sweetness of the soft cooked pears perfectly) and we then delved into a devilish Chocolate Tart and Vanilla Ice-Cream. We both agreed that it was probably the most indulgent slice of dessert we had ever had, and well worth the extra calories, before refreshing our palates with a bottle of still Mineral Water (750ml, £4.00).
The food and dining experience was of a high standard and although drinks and desserts were at an additional cost, the two course lunch menu (at £15.00) was excellent value for money. We left cheerful and relaxed, and could easily be tempted back for more.
**Our verdict:** A very pleasant dining experience that you’d be crazy to miss. Highly recommended for couples or a group of you.
**Book now:** This unique offer runs from the 24th January until 13th March 2011. http://www.fortnumandmason.com/events/15menu.aspx
**Reviewed by:** Carly Lake