Wild Honey is a ludicrous name for this restaurant: there is nothing wild about it, and I do not think that is even its intention. Rather, it is a cloistered, almost sombre restaurant in the grandest part of the West End, almost opposite the Athenaeum Club, whose goddess, I fancy, is weeping metal tears. I depend on old maps of London. They offer perspective and consolation, and I know this part was once marshland from the River Tyburn on its way from Hampstead to Westminster. Now it is Pall Mall and Wild Honey lives in one of its palest, grandest buildings: it glows like a slightly restrained Versailles, signifying power and brickwork. It was once home to the royal printers, a bank, and what became, in its pomp, Aviva insurance. Now it is Sofitel London St James, a name that is simply gobble-degook.
Deepest tourist-land, then, of the kind that calls St James’s ‘a neighbourhood’ on Trip-Advisor. I marvel at the idiocies of Trip-Advisor. I seek them out. For instance, TripAdvisor sometimes gives Auschwitz-Birkenau bad reviews. (‘You have to leave your bag in a kind of shed…’) A shed? What next?
The setting at least is fit for the chef: Anthony Demetre, a famous chef who for 12 years ran Wild Honey in a smaller spot in Mayfair. I never went there but critics were prostrate before it, writing elegies to onions and grace and grace with onions. Now Wild Honey has stepped out of the chorus line, if you will, to a larger stage, which I hope deserves it.
It is in the brasserie-style, of course, which is normal: wealthy people like a generic world, for then they can imagine that all of it — rather than most of it — belongs to them, and this is comforting. If you spend too much time in these places you feel their neurosis deeply. I wonder if Caravaggio would be commissioned these days, or if he was too fond of severed heads. I wonder if this kind of luxury and spurious attention is not only a hoax to deceive the adult into believing itself a child — and the human to believing this constitutes a viable civilisation — but is morally survivable at any point. I think it isn’t; at least that is what the headlines tell me.
The banquettes are tan leather or blue velvet, as is usual; the floor is black and white, as is usual; the light fittings are bold and alarming like giant luminescent doughnuts floating in the space-time continuum; that too is usual. I am told by the PR babble that the design is by someone called Jim Hamilton, and I have no reason to think this a lie. But I wonder if Jim Hamilton is designing all the restaurants I have ever met, either under his own name or pseudonymously.
However generic the London grand hotel may be, there is always a deranged flourish. Like brides, in seeking to look different, almost all grand hotels end up looking the same. The Sofitel has a pink sanctuary, all pink roses and pink velvet and pink crockery, like a feminine anxiety dream from the mid-20th century. That is, it matches your tongue.
The food, meanwhile, is almost too superb: rigatoni with boneless chicken wings, a famous dish, as fierce as Italian cuisine should be; an elegant tomato salad, almost chiming in its dressing; a laconic burrata; then wild honey ice-cream with Burford honey gleaned before your eyes in some contraption designed specifically for honey gleaning in grand hotels. It is as fine as food can be in this city and Demetre should be pleased: it is all careful, pretty and loved. We have reached a pitch of excellence in cuisine in London. I cannot say the same for our morals.
Wild Honey, 8 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 5NG, tel: 020 7389 7820.