One has to respect tradition – particularly one as charming as Wiltons’ sense of timing. Upon arriving early for a 12:30 lunch, we’re bid a “good morning” as we enter the building. I glance at the clock to check we’re not that early, and make some comment that sure, we’re early, but didn’t think we were that early. “But you’ve not had lunch yet,” explains the maître d, guiding us to our table. “At Wiltons, it’s always morning until you’ve eaten lunch.”. As traditions and philosophies go, that’s a pretty good one (although I’d still like to have a word with someone about the lack of apostrophe) and, frankly, if you can’t have a little eccentricity after 280 years of trading, when can you? No. That’s not a typo. This year (2022 at the time of writing) is Wiltons’ 280th anniversary as a business, having opened in 1742 as a fishmongers, before evolving into a fishmongers with oyster counter and, finally, as a full blown restaurant. Seafood still plays a part of course but the biggest draw is another fine tradition, and one that needs to be revived in more places: the carving trolley.
Seriously, isn’t that one of the most appealing two-word phrases in the restaurant lexicon? A daily special, the day of the week dictating what will be sliced and served to you table-side. On Wednesdays, for example, it’s roast sirloin, with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Tuesday is roast rack of Blythburgh pork with apple compote. Thursday – be still my oh-so-70s, oh-so-British heart – honey glazed gammon, pommes puree. The Monday of our visit – as it would be every Monday – the trolley housed roast leg of delightfully pink, very tender Dorset lamb, and mint sauce. The roast potatoes, in case you’re panicking, come separately. I mean, come on. You don’t get to be 280 years old by not serving roast potatoes…
But we’re jumping ahead a little. The room is wonderfully old fashioned, all wood, white linen and works of art. It could easily feel like a private members club so it’s testament to the team – and the regulars, many of whom have clearly been lunching there several times a week for years – that such a sense of formality is largely absent. There’s a sense you belong although that could also have a little something to do with your presence meaning you’re happy with the pricing which, admittedly, can be very SW1, from 30g of Iranian Beluga at £240 to oysters at £6 a pop, and £29 for Devonshire Crab & Avocado. The latter is terrific however and, while pricey, a large chunk of that has clearly gone on the ingredients. There’s a similar tale of quality to my Twice-Baked Colston Bassett Stilton Soufflé, which was a very lovely thing – as it should be for £18 – and, remarkably, not quite as artery-threatening as it sounds.
To be fair, that was our choice to go rogue and a la carte. Stick to the set, seasonal menu and you can enjoy things such as half a dozen rock oysters, the carving trolley and the Apple & Hazelnut Crumble (which is an utter thing of beauty) for £39.95 for two courses, or £47.95 for three which, actually, is rather good value for ingredients and cooking of this quality.
So, back to the lamb. The table side carving is a lovely bit of theatre, and the trimmings are great, the last spuds being happily crushed into the remains of the gravy and mint sauce to make sure the plates are clean which is, surely, the sign of a good roast lunch?
As a fan of “Savouries” on a menu, I can’t resist Welsh Rarebit but, as acceptable as it is, it can’t compete with the allure of the crumble. Seriously. It’s an absolute belter of a pudding, from the slightly tart fruit to the rich, buttery crumble with the hazelnuts adding depth and texture, and taking the edge of any sweetness.
And so we leave, satisfied not over full – think sighs of contentment, not groans of overconsumption – into what’s now, officially, the afternoon. Ridiculously, that was my first visit to Wiltons. I doubt very much though that it’s my last. Sometimes there genuinely is no school like the old school.
55 Jermyn Street