Iconic London restaurant serving traditional British dishes
This was a long-overdue visit and Wiltons seems to stand as strong now as it did when it first opened in 1742 as its banner proudly informs. If one takes this declaration as well as that purported by Rules (from 1798), then Wiltons is arguably the oldest eatery in London (sorry to say it Rules) although, this can be debated as Wiltons was originally a seafood store at inception and did not manifest as a restaurant until the 19th Century. Seafood and oysters in particular are therefore the staple at Wiltons (as opposed to game at Rules) and I was impressed by how good the dishes were in terms of flavour and untampered treatment. The restaurant itself is welcoming and with a definite upmarket feel; on my visit I noticed affluent looking senior diners who seemingly enjoy Wiltons as their regular. This is probably the only draw back in that you will need to not mind spending a princely sum for each visit or, be extremely disciplined in order to walk away with only roughly £50 per head of damage (our meal was just over £230 for two with moderate wines). However, this is a wonderful slice of heritage with simple dishes done well in a an equally traditional part of London.
From the moment you enter Wiltons you are in good hands. There are several areas to choose from to eat and the acoustics are fine (soft furniture, decor and carpet throughout the restaurant). There is a formality to Wiltons which is not intimidating and I enjoy experiencing this when this happens (in these types of venues) as they dispel the myth that many have, for these types of establishments.
However, this does all come with a price tag and Wiltons’ is expensive even for the seasonal (set) menu starting at £35 for 2 courses and £43 for 3 courses (at time of writing). As it is not very often I go, we decided to have exactly what we wanted from the a la carte. Favourites included the steak tartare which, apart from being a touch too peppery, was very pleasant and nicely done with its well done quail’s egg.
The cheese soufflé was another must and this was pleasant to have. Of course there are lighter and more skilful versions at Le Gavroche and Martin Wishart, but this was competently delivered with a lovely undercurrent of stilton and brie all the way through. Additionally, there are examples of how a salmon starter can be a little more imaginatively presented other than just thinly sliced on its own with lemon (one thinks of Number One at The Balmoral immediately) but the quality of this Scottish salmon was strikingly good being so well smoked (this is done locally at Secret Smokehouse in East London, who also provide for Fortnum & Mason, Claude Bosi’s Bibendum, Elory and other Michelin starred restaurants) with a clean and rich flavour.
The lobster bisque kept the meal well going well with a deepness that was noticeably better than a recent version had in Le Fou Frog (Dallas) for example and this was a genuine pleasure – intense and well reduced. Welsh rarebit is another absolute favourite and each restaurant will have its own take, but I have to say this version was excellent – the bread nicely thin to the ratio of béchamel with a pleasant sense of cheese and mustard and not too spicy.
Truffle mash was pleasant and actually served with truffle to my surprise (as opposed to being made with truffle oil which is actually a synthetic compound containing no truffle) and which made me accept the £14 price tag for the side dish a little more. My Father had the Scotch Woodcock dish (creamy scrambled eggs on toast with anchovy) roughly 30 years ago in Wiltons and it was gratifying to see that this dish was still on the menu to the same degree which the staff confirmed. Needless to say it was had again and to the pleasure of both at the table.
Glasses of wine ranged from £12 with the Sancere to £35 at the upper end with Puligny Montrachet, courtesy of a coravin. Thus, it is possible to have a meal at Wiltons with wine to a reasonable level (see picture of the bill) but, as stated, you have to be selective.
Personally, I’m glad that restaurants with unashamed stubbornness, like Wiltons, exist in the UK. I like the fact that they are unapologetic for keeping themselves as they are and are not striving for modernity and accolades. I say this as they are simply doing what they do really well. Although it is quite expensive and easy to notch up a bill if enjoying oneself, I think the best thing to do if visiting Wiltons is set aside more of a budget than usual and then do precisely that for a proper experience to properly there enjoy – it will be more worthwhile.
Food Grade: 74%
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