Toying with a dozen Colchester natives at the oyster bar at Wiltons on Jermyn Street, I idly wondered whether there is any finer thoroughfare in London for the well-dressed gourmet to idle away a few hours. I think not. This historic stretch from St James’s Street to Haymarket has, of course, a reputation for tailoring that stretches back more than two centuries, but less well known is its food and drink pedigree.
Late-18th-century Jermyn Street boasted a clutch of hotels – unusual in London at the time and a step up in luxury from coaching inns – that played host to a disparate crowd: friends of the Prince Regent; French aristocrats fleeing la Terreur (Grenier’s hotel housed Madame de Boufflers and her daughter-in-law, the Comtesse Emilie, while those with revolutionary sympathies frequented The Gun Tavern); and dandies, who valued the street’s proximity to the fashionable clubs of St James’s, as well as its tailors and barbers.
The modern-day dandy will find that little has changed. He can still pamper his face with a shave at Geo F Trumper’s, on the corner of Duke of York Street; pick up some natty cufflinks at Longmire; try on a trilby at Bates; and slip into a bespoke pair of brogues at John Lobb.
Thoroughly enervated by the morning’s exertions, our dandy might visit the aforementioned Wiltons – I heartily recommend the potted shrimps (have them served warm), a fine tranche of turbot cooked on the bone, and perhaps a savoury, that most gentlemanly of courses: Scotch woodcock, Welsh rarebit, or angels on horseback – or he might bag a table at 45 Jermyn Street, Fortnum & Mason’s smart modern brasserie on the corner of Duke Street.
Opened in November 2015, 45 Jermyn Street has rapidly become the area’s most glamorous bar and restaurant, not least because of the handsome caviar trolley, fashioned from American walnut and inset with a hotplate on which scrambled eggs are cooked tableside. The menu offers splendidly wobbly bone marrow seasoned with Parmesan and parsley salt; three kinds of Welsh rarebit (try the Elegant, with tomato and grilled bacon); Dover sole à la meunière, with brown butter, capers and lemon; and generously marbled, full-flavoured ribeye steak, served with béarnaise.
If that all sounds rather clubby, there are imaginative vegetarian dishes – pumpkin ravioli with sage and pine nuts, or a spicy jackfruit salad. At dinner roast chicken or beef Stroganoff might be on offer, again served à table from a trolley.
Then, toddle off home with a chunk of Comté from the brilliant Paxton & Whitfield, saluting the statue of the dandy’s patron saint, Beau Brummel, en route. Jermyn Street is a little narrow to be a boulevard, but it has always attracted its fair share of boulevardiers.