Monday, May 24, 2010

The Epicurean Pilgrimage Series: Wilton's

So some of you may have read a post I wrote a while ago about Trishna restaurant in Mumbai and its signature oh-my-gah-totally-sick-and-wrong butter-garlic-pepper crab. Need I say more? So, Trishna is one of ten restaurants featured in New York Times journalist R.W. Apple Jr.'s "Meals Worth the Price of a Plane Ticket", an article he penned shortly before his death in 2005. About this list, Apple writes, "Please note, this is neither an enumeration of my favorites (though some of those are included) nor a ranking of the world's best. Rather than reciting a long list of two- and three-star gastronomic temples, I have chosen purlieus both grand and small, better to reflect my own eating habits... I have arbitrarily restricted my choices to one per country, for much the same reason. I would expect no one else to choose the same 10, but on the other hand, I would be astonished if many of my nominations disappointed."

Trishna was the only restaurant on his illustrious list that we had had the pleasure of patronizing - until last week.  Eager to check a few more off the list, I booked a table for 5, i.e. three adults and two under two at Wilton's in London. Lunch at Wilton's may be included in a list more aptly titled, "Meals the Same Price as a Plane Ticket." Such establishments generally aren't fond of children; but the person on the other end of the line when I called to make a reservation didn't show any signs of fear (the way he should have) and simply asked if we would be needing high chairs. Indeed we would! How convenient that you have them! I said. "Oh no, WE don't have them. But I can borrow them if you need them."

Amalia loved drinking sparkling water out of a fancy glass. She also loved tipping it just so, just to that point where you can either save it or let it flow, which made mama get all flushed in the face as she rushed to stop the waterfall. She also loved the dinner rolls. "Mo" bread, PEEEEEEEEES!!! Yes, shh, ok, honey, more bread, here, as much as you want, just shhhhh. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! PPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSS!!!! And then suddenly, as if she understood the situation perfectly, she bursts into song: LALALALALALALALLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! Every time one of the 831 waiters, water pourers, lamb carvers, or other attendants walked by they bent to pick up a shred of paper, a crumb, a toothpick, a spoon - whatever she could get her hands on and skillfully project downwards before I could stop her.

Zia arrived styled out. Ingo, however, needed a little assistance. "Do you need a jacket, sir?" they asked at the door. "No," he replied, "I'm already wearing one" referring to his leather jacket. "Sir, we have a jacket policy here. I would guess you're a 42?" Hence, the handsome blazer with the flashy gold buttons. Right, the jacket policy. Riiiiigggghhhht. Forgot about that. (Read: shit, the bill is going to be huuuuuuggge.)

I am not sure if these oysters really were THE BEST I HAVE EVER HAD or if I just REEEAAALLLYYY wanted them to be the best I've ever had because Mr. Apple swooned over them. In any case, judgement cloudy or spot on, they were GOOOOOOOD. I would venture to say AHHMAZING. They were the perfect size i.e. had they been ANY bigger, they would have been too big. I am a fan of just a little squeeze of lemon and letting the briny water they come in speak for itself. And these ones said, "AHOY MATE" - it was like standing on the shore and letting a big wave hit you in the face. MMMMMMM these were fresh and salty and sa-weet.

Apple writes that the oysters "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."

I found the aforementioned Patrick Flaherty, or "Uncle Pat" as one of the departing diners called him, at the bar and he showed me Mr. Apple's "usual" table. Uncle Pat has been at Wilton's since 1963 and insisted it was a "family restaurant" and that our kids were very well behaved compared to some of the brats who come in. I said, "Yeah but that one is still sleeping. Let's talk after he wakes up."

Uncle Pat said that Apple came in twice a year and always had a big appetite and a load of charm. He said that Apple's consistently good reviews brought in a number of diners like us who mentioned the article.

The Dover Sole. As Apple says, "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." It was excellent. I licked my fingers. In spite of myself.

Henry did wake up eventually - most fortunately AFTER we had finished the meal and were midway through dessert. And that's when Wilton's called for reinforcements. They sent in THREE NANNIES as a counter-offensive for any kind of attack Henry might have in store. See them standing there in the background? Don't let the cute striped smocks and tidy aprons fool you. They look Mary Poppins enough but these ladies were FIERCE I tell you. And they swooped in with a stealth swiftness and enviable accuracy any time one of these two even thought about hurling something toward the rest of the dining room. The two upper-middle aged gentlemen at the table across from us, one of whom resembled Richard Branson, I swear, were less than amused to be seated across from us. They were still pleasant enough and kept their passive-aggressive comments to a minimum ("Since when has Wilton's become a NURSURY?).
Behold Ingo's chocolate mousse with mint ice cream. It was divine. Amalia thought so too and dove in with her hands. Fine dining, indeed. I went with the cheese plate and the cheese plate when too fast to photograph it apparently. The pralines in the background were also pretty sick.

As we packed ourselves up, much to the relief of the staff and the gentlemen across from us, Amalia turned and gave Richard Branson her sweetest smile and a wave. "Bye-bye", she cooed. "Bye-bye", said Richard Branson as he returned the gesture. "And never come back!" It sounds horrendously rude but it was playfully intoned (although dead-serious, we presume).

Overall, it was a lovely meal and I would recommend Wilton's to anyone who has just won the lottery. The food was delicious, the atmosphere extremely elegant and the overly-capable staff was extremely tolerant, kind and helpful - ESPECIALLY with the kids which earns them big points in my book. A place like this could have copped some serious attitude - but they were delightful. Their clientele on the other hand - well that is beyond their control I suppose.

After we treated ourselves to lunch, we took our well-behaved bundles out for a treat we thought they would enjoy.


  1. fine dining with kids! you are brave! all that silverware to drop- so much fun!

  2. Absolutely love your blog you guys! Such a journey every time I read. Jiff--your kids are gems. Love the nannies in the background but REALLY love the photo of Amalia on the sing. Can't wait to meet them. xoxo