Wild Honey is the sister to Arbutus, and opened in July 2007. Its decor seems to me an unhappy blend of old and new. The wood panelled room (ex Drones) is clearly Mayfair club territory, with somewhat uncomfortable banquette seating. The designer presumably decided that this was too old fashioned, so has attempted to modernise it with a few pieces of abstract art. One piece is of some ill-defined animals cavorting: "Are those rats?" I asked the waiter. "That's exactly what I thought, but apparently they are cats and dogs" was the reply. Well, what do I know about art.
The bread is from Exeter Street Bakery and is a simple choice of well made slices of either brown or white bread (15/20). The wine list is of manageable proportions with tolerable mark-ups, and mimics Arbutus in its appealing choice of carafes as well as bottles. The menu is rather more appealing than Arbutus, with slightly less spartan ingredients e.g. halibut and sea bass rather than pollack, though there is corned beef - corned beef? A salad of smoked eel has tasty eel, a little beetroot and some horseradish cream with well-controlled horseradish flavour, along with some decent leaves (14/20). A salad of organic (i.e. farmed) salmon had good leaves also but suffered from a pallid-looking, tasteless salmon, along with a sorrel mayonnaise that lacked much taste of sorrel (12/20).
Sea bass was cooked without its skin, an odd decision since this not only results in a loss of flavour and moisture but ends up with a brown, mushy appearance without the attractive silver skin (this served with brown mushrooms). The sea bass was again farmed and so rather tasteless but cooked nicely, served with decent girolles and slightly overcooked borlotti beans, but also a couple of braised leeks, which didn't give any real interest to an already rather tasteless dish (14/20 if I am kind). This was better than a watery piece of halibut, served with a selection of vegetables and allegedly a dressing of lemon thyme which had no discernible flavour of lemon thyme whatever, even to the bloodhound-like sense of smell of my wife. The peas were OK but the carrots were both utterly tasteless and badly overcooked (12/20).
Wild honey ice cream was adequate but lacked honey flavour, supplemented by a few bits of crushed honeycomb to add a texture contrast (13/20). A tart of plums suffered from hard pastry, though the plums themselves were fine, the tart accompanied by a decent peach sauce (14/20). Coffee was good, with a generous double espresso (15/20). The chef is Colin Kelly, a long time colleague of Mr Demetre at Putney Bridge, and we did have the treat of that rarest of things: an English waiter in London, a Mr Anthony Bodo. It is nearly two years since I last spotted an English waiter in a London restaurant, a certain Matthew Jolleys at the Ledbury, and I expect there to be a new trend of people with Burberrys wandering around London restaurants noting the comings and goings of such rare creatures. Service was good, and the dishes arrive at a healthy clip.
Overall this was much as I recall Arbutus, simple food that is mostly correctly cooked, but with cheap ingredients. I can easily cook such things at home, but with far better ingredients, so for me this is a restaurant with little interest. When I eat out I want something that I cannot easily make myself. The price was not that high, but at £65 a head with a £36 bottle of wine it is hardly dirt cheap either. Clearly they have tapped into a successful formula here, but to me this is rather cynical cooking. It will no doubt do very well.