Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wiltons

London, 
2001 


While cleaning out the attic this weekend, I came across a box filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines. One of the articles I’d forgotten about appeared in the New York Times in October 2006. It was written by R. W. Apple, Jr., an associate editor who had died earlier that month. Known to friends and colleagues as “Johnny,” the celebrated gourmand recounted ten of his favorite restaurants during many years of travel. Reading this piece anew, I was pleased to see a place that would also be on my short list—Wiltons in London. Excerpts from the article are shown below, along with a menu from the period. 

“Clubbish in location, in looks and for the most part clubbish in clientele, wonderful Wiltons in fact affords a cheerful, courteous welcome to all who show up in properly sober clothes, ready to pay the sobering prices. The best English food (as opposed to the best food in England, which is so grandly cosmopolitan these days) is still that which has been least messed about with. That is just what Wilton’s delivers. ‘Noted since 1742 for the finest oysters, fish and game,’ it says of itself, with every justification. 


“You might start with a half-dozen oysters. They will set you back a pretty penny, but then they are imposing creatures, five inches across, pale beige rather than silver-gray, in shells as flat as saucers. They come from West Mersea, on an island off the Essex coast, from beds that are harvested exclusively from rowboats, lest oil or gasoline pollute the waters. They are opened by London’s best oysterman, Patrick Flaherty, a 40-year veteran when I last checked. None of the briny juices escape. No nasty bits of shell creep in. Then maybe a wild salmon from the Spey in Scotland (increasingly rare), or a snowy hunk of halibut — ‘a nice piece of fish,’ as I once heard Rex Harrison call it. 


“But whole Dover sole is the overwhelming choice of English connoisseurs: brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper, turned quickly on the grill so that the grill bars burn a dark lattice pattern into the fish, then cooked under the intense heat of the broiler for roughly 12 to 15 minutes. Perfectly simple, simply perfect and entirely sufficient. This is the porterhouse steak of fish. No sauce is needed, partly because cooking the fish whole (‘on the bone’) helps to keep it moist. You may well come across an occasional apostate who insists upon tartar sauce (much too robust, in my view) or hollandaise (too rich). In game season, both partridge and grouse are exemplary.” 


While I am also particularly fond of the Dover sole, dining at Wiltons can be a memorable experience in other ways. In the evening, you might even catch a glimpse of a member of the royal family. Other than the cuisine, what I remember about this luncheon service in 2001 were the dapper art dealers sitting at the bar, absentmindedly picking at their food while perusing a Sotheby’s catalog during the midday break in an auction. The scene was quintessential London, as much as the Queen’s Guard outside Buckingham Palace, a leisurely 13-minute stroll from the restaurant. Still, I focused on the dishes placed in front of me, for one never knows when he or she might pass this way again. 


Note: 
1. R. W. Apple, Jr., “An Epicurean Pilgrimage: Meals Worth the Price of a Plane Ticket,” New York Times, 22 October 2006.

2 comments:

Jeanne Schinto said...

Clubbish. ... good word and great blog. Hope I can go there one of these days.

Buying Seafood said...

Cool looking menu, that dish of the day sound similar to the "eggs fishermen" they used to have at the old Locke-Ober in Boston. My buddy, now 93 said that was his favorite back in the 1930's