On the table: 45 Jermyn St.



Photograph: James McDonald

In her quest for the finest food in London, Victoria Stewart visits 45 Jermyn St., a suitably self-deprecating eatery owned by Fortnum & Mason and serving an extremely enjoyable ‘afters’ menu. (Victoria was a guest of the restaurant.)

The funny thing about 45 Jermyn St. is that you could walk in all dressed up expecting slick decor, slick service and formal food – and then have the formality pulled right out from under your stilettoed heels. Well, they’ll give you that and they’ll treat you like royalty if that’s what you want – but my guess is that the staff want you to feel like you can have an elegant sort of giggle with them and talk about how brilliant and silly the pudding menu is.

This newly renovated restaurant – owned by the department store Fortnum & Mason and formerly called The Fountain after its soda machine – is somewhere with wide-ranging appeal; I reckon you could take a client, a date, your mother or your grandmother here without fuss. I say that having eaten there as a guest last month and found a remarkable mixture of clientele: there was the fabulous lady in the Eighties plastic tweed skirt-suit who held court on the best table in the house – the big round one by the kitchen door, from which you can view the restaurant – there were two gay men spruced up for a date, a fashion trio and a very old gentleman eating a Knickerbocker Glory.

The place is indeed slick, designed by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, the guys who design almost every new London restaurant these days, but it’s lovely and does well on detail. Fortum’s classic pistachio covers the walls, there are banquettes swathed in deep orange, and one part of the marble bar juts out at one end making it seem like a kind of bar-in-round. Leaving your coat at the desk entitles you to a hard gold luggage label – a nice touch – while proper silver cutlery is laid out from platters depending on whether you’re eating snails or steak.

And then there’s the food, made by Lee Streeton, who has prevoiusly cooked at Brown’s Hotel and Daphne’s, which is basically what we all feel like eating of an early winter eve. There are proper sized starters, consisting of delicious things like little snails doused in gorgonzola and garlic butter sauce, or two hefty grilled marrow bones with a teeny spoon for digging out the contents, and a pile of green parsley salt to dip it all in. It’s a luscious start.

Pumpkin ravioli is a sound version of this seasonal dish, each delicate parcel cooked a little al dente, packed with the fresh pulped vegetable and dressed with rich butter and crisp pieces of sage. But, oh, the lobster spätzle! Now I’ve had spätzle before but not as amazingly light and rich as this one – with proper big mouthfuls of lightly cooked lobster to boot. Meanwhile a side dish of fennel gratin suits even my anti-fennelist companion.

I’m afraid to say you could lose a whole afternoon to the sweet things. There are desserts like apple tarte tatin, and good cheeses, but also an array of coupes, floats and even a savoury menu for when you think you want something sweet and then change your mind. On that note, may I recommend that you simply end by ordering a perfectly done Welsh rarebit, followed swiftly by a cornflake float, which is laced with brown butter syrup, Bourbon, a dollop of cornflake ice cream and a delicate soda fizz.

Restaurants that serve good food but don’t take themselves too seriously are my favourite sort of restaurants. Now excuse me while I invite my great aunt out for a Knickerbocker Glory.

What we drank:

2013 Morgon, Côte du Py, Jean-Marc Burgaud, Beaujolais

2013 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA

45 Jermyn St, St James’s, London SW1 6DN