Is Wiltons’ new coronation menu fit for a king?
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How are you planning to spend the coronation weekend? For Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee, I cooked a large batch of kedgeree and watched the whole thing on telly. What could be more British? But when I heard Wiltons in St James’s was laying on a coronation menu in honour of King Charles – a seven-course meal available for dinner throughout May – I thought this time I could do better.
Wiltons opened in 1742 as an oyster stall and launched as a restaurant in the 1840s. Awarded royal warrants for oysters and seafood by Queen Victoria, Edward VII and Edward VIII, it was sold to Olaf Hambro in 1942 and is still owned by the banking family. An Establishment canteen, it was once described as being a hybrid of a gentleman’s club and a nursery – two great institutions in an Englishman’s life. The waitresses were dressed to resemble nannies, the kind who might once have instructed the captains of industry and landed gentry who dine here to finish their greens or else.
Lately, there’s been a push to evolve. The dress code has been relaxed – jackets and ties are “welcome” but no longer required – and the menu subtly updated. Regulars’ favourites such as smoked salmon, oysters, grouse and beef remain. But more accessibly priced items like cod and lemon sole have been added, as have set menus, which promise better value. The coronation menu, priced at £150 a head with a matching wine flight at £125 per person, is a slighter cry from the king’s ransom you might once have paid.
I’d say it’s worth it. There’s Bollinger Special Cuvée to start, naturally; it’s a Palace favourite. Then a roll call of seasonal best of British. The asparagus velouté is hot, frothy goodness in a dainty espresso cup, followed by citrus-cured Cornish monkfish with ginger, shallots, samphire and fennel – bright and herby, like a G&T with hints of pickled onion. The morel mushroom risotto – a source tells me the King ordered this when he came – may be the best I’ve ever had: rich and creamy with just enough bite. The dish almost purrs. The rack of lamb from the Rhug estate, where Charles gets his, is rack the way you want it with peas and baby onions in a sticky red wine sauce (you can swap in Dover sole for this should you want). There’s green apple sorbet to cleanse. Then posh jelly made from rhubarb and Nyetimber sparkling wine, with petit-fours to finish. A king amongst feasts.