This new book by the fictional William Wolfe is a who’s who of the London luxury scene – here are some of his top tips:
In the 1960s a gentleman couldn’t possibly exist without Sir Francis Chichester’s Guide to Good Living in London. It was a pocket-sized map of the West End and the City, supported by an indispensable index of his favourite haunts.
I had always wanted to recreate, or rather update, his guide for a new generation of gentlemen. I have been supported in this endeavour by Fitzdares, my favourite bookmaker and, quite frankly, the only bookmaker a gentleman should need. I hope this guide not only confirms your excellent taste but also informs you of a few new establishments to discover on a wandering day in London.
It’s safe to assume that the reviews of J Sheekey have, over its 125-year history, consistently trumped those of any of the productions in the adjacent theatres. Tucked away down a narrow court, its pillar-box red frontage belies its discreet location.
Recently augmented by an enclosed terrace that’s airy in summer and cosy in winter, it’s welcomed generations of diners who’ve flocked to it from across the capital and around the world. Relaxed but sophisticated, Sheekey’s interiors – a succession of interconnected spaces lined with wood panelling, leather banquettes and framed photographs of the darlings of the British stage – culminate in the bustling Atlantic Bar adorned with mosaics of pulchritudinous mermaids.
No prizes for guessing that the thing here is fish, fresh daily and cooked to perfection. Besides the classics – lobster thermidor, grilled Dover sole, assorted caviars – J Sheekey mixes up its menu with the likes of monkfish and tiger prawn tikka masala, and shrimp and soft-shell crab burgers. Brimming over with langoustines, oysters, mussels, clams and whelks, the shellfish platters of varying sizes and price-points are ideal for those who like to share. For those who don’t, there’s J Sheekey’s signature fish pie. Throw in a couple of martinis or a bottle of champagne from the extensive list and you might just find that your pre- or post-theatre supper outperforms the show you have tickets for.
Established by Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver in 1994, St John took up residence in a former smokehouse adjacent to Smithfield Market. Neither bells nor whistles have ever played parts in its pioneering repertoire. Monastic in its severity, the stripped-back décor serves to focus one’s attention squarely on the predominantly British food and the exclusively French wines.
Rooted in a doctrine of respect – respect for the produce, respect for its producers – St John is crystalline in its clarity of purpose and presentation. The menu alone is a masterpiece of economy. There are no corners in which to hide. And why would that be necessary in the first place? The ingredients are so superb, and they’re combined with such a super-abundance of love, that to add a single word to any of those printed on the bill of fare would be de trop.
Take the cold roast lamb on anchovy toast. Once tasted, it’s impossible to imagine how some- thing so plain but so good could possibly be bettered. From the mussels with white cabbage to the ginger loaf with butterscotch sauce, the same applies to every other dish. The fabled Eccles cakes, available to eat in or take away, have brought me limitless joy over the years.
As much a philosophy as a physical space, St John transcends its ‘bare bones’ approach to dining by proving that the simplest things are also the most satisfying.
• The book will launch on 1 December and is available for purchase from The Fitzdares Club, Jeeves of Belgravia and Gentleman’s Journal for £14.99