Seven Park Place is on the ground floor of the St James Hotel, in the same space that was previously occupied by the short-lived Andaman. Apart from some rather dark new wallpaper (and a new carpet planned) the space is essentially unchanged, around 26 covers in two small sections, one overlooking part of the kitchen. Behind the stoves is William Drabble, the well-established chef who gained a Michelin star at Aubergine in his most recent tenure.
Seven Park Place is the little dining room within the boutique Seven Park Place Hotel, tucked away at the end of a quiet cul de sac off St James Street. Chef William Drabble was the head chef of Aubergine from 1999 to 2009, after heading up the kitchen at Michael’s Nook in Grasmere (and winning a Michelin star there) and training previously at The Capital, Chez Nico and Pied a Terre. Three courses at dinner were priced at £58, a tasting menu at £69. The wine list had around 300 wines to choose from, ranging in price from £24 to £1,400, with a median price of £60 and an average mark-up of around 2.8 times the retail price, which is hardly kindly but not bad by the standards of the prosperous local area. There were 100 wines (34% of the list) under £50 a bottle.
We opted for the tasting menu tonight. Bread is now made in-house, and a white bread with dill had good texture and a nice hint of dill, whilst walnut and raisin bread had excellent flavour (5/10). Foie gras was seared and served warm, offered with caramelised pear and ginger syrup. This was pleasant but not particularly inspiring, the foie gras having reasonable texture but not particularly deep flavour, the pear surprisingly lacking in acidity and the ginger flavour subdued (4/10 at best). A scallop with braised celeriac puree, bacon and celeriac jus had nice bacon but the scallop itself, though correctly cooked and diver-caught, did not have much inherent sweetness. Celeriac is a classic combination with shellfish but the usually bold earthy flavour was also rather subdued, so the main flavour coming through was the smokiness of the bacon (4/10). Native lobster with cauliflower and truffle with lobster sauce was a much better dish, the lobster tender, the cauliflower bringing an earthy counterpoint to the shellfish (6/10). T
he best dish of the night was sea bass with braised Jerusalem artichokes, parsley puree and red wine jus. The sea bass was expertly cooked, the skin crispy and the flesh firm, the red wine jus having deep flavour and the parsley puree nicely restrained (7/10). Also good was a starter of red mullet with slow-cooked octopus, fennel and blood orange vinaigrette. Whilst I have eaten better quality red mullet this week, the cooking was fine and I was very impressed with the octopus, which had no hint of rubberiness, and the fennel added a nice flavour note (6/10). Similarly a roast fillet of brill had good ceps and baked endive giving an interesting bitter note, but one that was controlled (6/10). Lamb with garlic and thyme was carefully cooked, though the flavour for me could have come through more strongly (5/10). The dessert was a take on pina colada cocktail, with poached pineapple, coconut sorbet and pineapple jelly. This was pleasant enough, the combination of flavours sensible (5/10). Service was excellent throughout the evening.
Overall this was an enjoyable meal, the fish cooking in particular a highlight. However there were some relatively ordinary dishes too, so for me this was somewhere between 5/10 and 6/10 standard overall, certainly worth its Michelin star but not a faultless meal. It is nice, however, to see a high quality chef focusing on attractive classical dishes rather than trying to be fashionable for the sake of it.
The notes below are from a meal in September 2009.
The wine list is a big improvement on Andaman’s (not hard, given the ludicrous mark-ups which that list had). It spans 18 pages and covers top growers very well, including a good section on Germany, a rarity in UK wine lists. Examples include Riesling Egon Muller 2007 at £41 compared to a retail price of around £17, Bonny Doon Cigare Volant 2004 at £53 for a wine you can buy in the shops for £18 and Antinori Tignanello 1999 at £150 for a wine that will set you back £70 in the shops. At the expense account end of the lists there was 1992 Opus One for £535 compared to a retail price of £210 these days, Chevalier Montrachet Colin-Deleger 2005 a relative bargain, listed at £240 for a wine that costs around £193 to buy, and Chateaux Margaux 1982 at £1,200 for a wine that will cost you at least £600 in a shop, should you be in the mood to splash out.
The restaurant was only on its second operational night, and some early teething issues showed in the bread, which was brought in from Millers and was downright poor: a walnut roll that barely tasted of walnut, a chewy mini-baguette and tasteless white and brown rolls (barely 1/10). Apparently the chef hopes to make his own bread in due course (as he did at Aubergine) so hopefully this is a temporary issue.
Fortunately the actual cooking was of an altogether more accomplished level. As a nibble, seared tuna with tomato confit and avocado puree worked well, the avocado a nice foil for the tuna, the tomato having reasonable taste (5/10). Tortellini of lobster featured good pasta and non-chewy lobster, served with nicely roasted cauliflower and a truffle butter sauce (5/10). Baked fillet of red mullet in itself was very good, carefully cooked and having good taste, while sage beignet and fennel with it were also nicely made, though rings of fried squid were a little chewy (5/10, which would have been higher without the squid).
For the main course sea bass was pan-fried, served with braised Jerusalem artichokes, parsley puree and red wine jus; the fish again tasted good, well timed and the vegetables with it were fine (5/10). I had particularly good grouse, served with blackberries which gave the acidity necessary to offset the richness of the grouse, which was served on a bed of green cabbage and a tasty deep-fried confit of the leg and liver (7/10).
The pastry chef has been retained from the Andaman days (this is a good thing, by the way), and prepared for us a Bramley apple mousse with blackberry jelly, with a smooth apple sorbet; the only thing that let down the dish was an apple “crisp”, which was not (still 5/10). Chocolate was offered in various forms: as biscuit, Chantilly, sorbet and marshmallow with popping candy, all of which were very pleasant (5/10). Service under Christophe Thuilot (previously at the Capital) was excellent, and I was pleased to see two waitresses from the ill-fated Ambassade de l’Ile, who were always very good. The bill came to £91 per head. The tasting menu is £59, three courses are £45.
Overall this was a very capable meal given that this was only the second night and the kitchen has yet to be fully staffed. As it settles down there is no reason why this should not become a very successful restaurant.