Wiltons – do they know it’s Christmas?
Simon George tucks into a summer Christmas lunch.
Traditional, quintessentially English and in many respects timeless, Wiltons in Jermyn Street is London’s oldest restaurant!
It started out life selling oysters, now one of its signature dishes, from a stall in nearby Haymarket in 1742, before opening as a restaurant around 1840.
Wiltons’ director Jason Phillips picks up the story. In 1942, a close encounter with a Luftwaffe bomb prompted the owner, Bessie Leale, unnerved by the whole experience, to sell Wiltons to merchant banker Olaf Hambro who was dining at the restaurant at the time – Hambro memorably asking for the sale cost to be put on his bill. Wiltons remains in the Hambro family to this day.
Royalty (Princess Diana), VIPs (Henry Kissinger, Evelyn Waugh and Lord Rothschild) and well-heeled diners have sought out Wiltons ever since for its superb food, high standards and impeccable service that makes the dining experience as reliable as it is rewarding.
CN was recently invited to dine with a group of journalists in the Jimmy Marks private dining room. The classic summer staples on Wiltons’ menu of lobster and Dover sole accompanied by a crisp Sancerre surely beckoned? Well, not quite! Christmas, in fact, had come early at Wiltons.
On the menu was a three-course Christmas meal fit for a king (or three): an entrée of venison carpaccio with quince and hazelnut salad, followed by turkey, carved at the table, with all the trimmings; and rounded off with sauternes custard and Armagnac prunes, coffee and petit fours, all washed down with Wiltons’ special cuvee NV champagne and those two Burgundy classics, Chablis and a Bourgogne. And, of course, Christmas would not be Christmas (even in July) without party hats and crackers.
Had Wiltons’ menu suffered a meltdown due to the summer heat? Harry the Lobster, the restaurant’s iconic persona, might have waved a (Santa) claw at the chef’s seasonal temerity. But for people who wish it could be Christmas every day (including 4 July), it was surely a wizard idea, even for those not sure about sprouts in the summer! Merry Xmas, everybody!