In Review

Seven Park Place review: a Mayfair sanctuary for those in the know

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Seven Park Place is the kind of restaurant where the rich and powerful go not to be seen. Located on a hushed cul-de-sac nestled between Clarence House — the home of Prince Charles — and recherche neighbours like the Ritz and Le Caprice, the restaurant is hidden within the discrete opulence of the St. James’s Hotel and Club.

There’s no need to elbow your way past a flash of paparazzi or persuade a woman with an earpiece and a velvet rope to usher you into this Mayfair sanctuary. Only those in the know have found their way here down a concealed staircase just south of Jermyn Street.

Last time there was a hullabaloo at this address, it was the 1880s and a clutch of English aristocrats and French noblemen were busted playing baccarat. The grand Victorian edifice has largely stayed out of the spotlight ever since, which is a remarkable achievement in recent years as they have one of London’s best chefs turning out sumptuous Michelin-starred food in a beautifully appointed restaurant.

William Drabble snagged his first Michelin star at the age of 26, before taking over from Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine in Chelsea. He ran the kitchen at the celebrated French restaurant for a decade but refused to ape Ramsay’s self-aggrandising style. You would never catch Drabble parading around on TV shouting and swearing at inferior chefs.

Instead, he is ensconced in this tiny restaurant serving up elegant, classic dishes to a handful of rarefied diners.

A recent refurb upped the number of tables to 15, however, the feeling of exclusivity has been retained. In fact it’s so exclusive that on the Friday night of our visit, it was no more than three-quarters full. That added to the feeling of intimacy, although I have no doubt that the charming and knowledgeable front of house team would keep up the exemplary service no matter how many minor royals or Formula One drivers pitched up unannounced.

No sooner had our order been taken than the amuse-bouches began to arrive. The first of these was a trio of picnic items, which would have graced any hamper at the Glyndebourne opera festival. The pick of them was a kind of vegetarian sausage roll with the pork replaced by a generously seasoned spear of salsify.

Next came a smoked haddock soup, and the first clue that Drabble’s true love is French cookery; the flavours were delicately balanced, but there was no messing about when it came to the cream. Sympathetic waiters whipped the miniature bowls away when there was a spoon or two of the rich soup still remaining. We had to make way for the starters.

Plump butter poached langoustines sat proudly on a crisp, deep-fried galette of slow cooked pork and a nest of julienned apple. The Gallic influence this time stretched to the colonial empire, with the welcome inclusion of a subtle spice mix known as vadouvan that was first sent back to Paris by the French East India Company in the 17th century.

My wife’s seared foie gras with rhubarb and gingerbread was playful and intriguing if a little too sweet were it not for a paired glass of Riesling from the Mosel Valley which brought a dash of acid freshness to the palette.

Drabble’s menu is at its best when it sticks to more conventional flavour combinations. At these prices, some might expect more fireworks or revolutionary dishes but that’s simply not this chef’s style.

Slow cooked ox cheek with onions, bacon and mashed potato delivered everything it promised. Roast turbot with confit celeriac and a cep sauce was divine; the fish basted until golden with the aromatic twang of celeriac and celery leaves cutting through the butter and complementing a perfect flaking fillet.

Perfection is the watchword at Seven Park Place. Every element of every dish has been lovingly tended by a chef whose pride in the details has been elevated to the level of mastery.

Among the deserts — all four rounds of them, if you count an amuse-bouche of white chocolate panna cotta with grapefruit sorbet, a selection of petite fours and a little bag of coconut marshmallows to take home — there was a plate that stood out.

The toffee apple was the one dish of the entire meal that had hands from both sides of the table darting back and forth on the hunt for more ecstatic spoonfuls of contrasting texture and flavour. The toffee-covered white chocolate shell demanded to be cracked open to reveal a silky mousse surrounding cubes of fresh apple. This faux-fruit masterpiece was simultaneously creamy, crunchy, buttery and fresh.

It’s the kind of pudding that deserves to the limelight — hell, it should have its own TV show — but Drabble would prefer not to shout about it. The secret is shared only with the lucky few who find this strangely quiet dining room, hiding in the very heart of London.

Seven Park Place, London SW1A 1LS, stjameshotelandclub.com

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