Wiltons has been running as a seafood restaurant since 1840, after a prior incarnation as an oyster stall that was set up in 1742. It has been in Jermyn Street since 1984, and is still owned by the Scandinavian Hambro banking family (Hambros bank is now part of Société Générale). It has long been a purveyor to the aristocracy, ever since its royal warrant for oysters was granted in 1884. This seems an unlikely place for restless chef Andrew Turner (Browns, 1837, The Landau) to settle, but he seems very happy here after his hotel stints (editor's note, he moved yet again in late 2012). The room is, of course, old-fashioned, but in a good way: carpets rather than noisy wooden floors, booths as well as tables, oil paintings on the walls. It is very comfortable.
The menu majors on fish and didn’t stint on the price, with smoked eel at £17, wild turbot at £44 (per person), and vegetables at £5 each. The wine list stretched over 25 pages, and although it has plenty of coverage of France, it ventures further afield. The mark-ups were breathtaking, even for the area. The very enjoyable Giovanni Blaison Pinot Grigio 2008 was listed at £36 for a wine that costs less than £9 retail, Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay 2007 was £120 for a wine you can buy for £37, while Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 (a poor year) was an outrageous £280 for a wine that costs £49 in the shops. Appropriately there is English wine on offer: Chapel Down Pinot Blanc 2007 at £37 for a wine that costs around £12 to buy.
Bread was a choice of white and brown rolls (from Millers), and was merely edible (12/20): I remember Andrew Turner’s superb bread basket at his old posting at 1880 wistfully. I began with white crab meat and avocado, which although a very simple dish was good: the Cornish crab was fresh and had no traces of shell, the avocado was ripe and not too cold (13/20). More interesting was something I would not normally bother with in a restaurant – smoked salmon. Here it was wild Scottish salmon, smoked at the excellent Forman smokery on the Thames (who supply Harrods and Fortnum & Mason). Although this is shopping rather than cooking, the smoked salmon had magnificent flavour. It is hard to know how to score something like this, rather like the problem I have scoring lovely pata negra. The kitchen in some sense has done nothing except buy beautiful produce, but at least they have shopped superbly.
For the main course we went straight for the key speciality of the restaurant – grilled fish. I had wild turbot and my wife had Dover sole. With such simple dishes there is nowhere to hide, but the fish was of superb quality, and perfectly timed (easily 15/20). Yes, it is possible to do even better (the baby Dover sole at Nico’s in the early 1990s, the lovely turbot that they cook at the Sportsman), but this was most enjoyable. Carrots and pea puree were very pleasant, as was a good gratin dauphinoise, with enough firmness of texture left in the potatoes (14/20). Chips, though, were soggy (11/20): triple cooked chips are surely the way to go here.
For dessert, apple crumble was enjoyable if unremarkable, with good vanilla ice cream, Rhubarb trifle was also very pleasant, though for me this was a drop in gear compared to the main course (13/20). Coffee was lovely, Musetti double espresso (for a hefty £5, but unlimited quantity). It was served with some lacklustre petit fours, in particular some rather hard fruit jellies.
Service was exemplary throughout. Topping up was faultless. The only disconcerting element was that the waitresses were dressed in bizarre uniforms that not only looked like nurse’s uniforms, but I am reliably informed were exactly the shade of the uniforms of what used to be called auxiliary nurses. Given the age of some of the diners this may have some surreal appropriateness, but I found it rather strange.
I actually get a certain guilty pleasure from meals like this. The produce was of a very high standard, and although the prices were to match I have much less problem with being charged a lot of money for top class turbot or wild smoked salmon than some of the prices that I see in London now for very cheap bistro ingredients in some places. What grates are the prices for the extras: wild turbot is expensive, but carrots are not. The bill, with no pre-dinner drinks and one of the cheapest wines on the list, was £127 a head for three courses and coffee.
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