Pleasure / November 2017

Gastronomical Gluttony at Wiltons, London

Fill your stomach – and empty your pockets – at St. James’s institutional restaurant Wiltons.

Champagne and caviar at Wiltons. First established in 1742, the restaurant has gained a reputation for the finest oysters, wild fish and game that London has to offer.

Even amongst the rarefied set who glide exclusively around Mayfair and St. James’s – the deep-tanned businessmen, the venerable politicians, the terrifyingly high-powered old-school PR women and other assorted Captains of Industry and Masters of the Universe; the sorts of people who buy and sell fine art, large banks and small countries… even amongst these people, the price of a meal at Wiltons restaurant does not go unremarked upon.

“Wonderful place! One of my favourites! Make sure you’re not paying,” smiles a CEO of a Royal Warranted business on nearby St. James’s Street. “Glorious – possibly the best restaurant in London,” avers a prominent food writer, “obviously get someone to take you. Jesus.”

Wiltons itself makes no bones about the prices. On its own website it quotes a long time diner, who recalls fondly; “It took me twenty years to qualify for a regular booth table. Given another twenty, I may even muster the courage to read the bill from time to time!”

Wiltons began life as an oyster stall in 1742 (making it 34 years older than America) and then evolved into a restaurant – first on Ryder Street, in 1840, and then its current site on Jermyn Street in 1984. For time immemorial it has been frequented by the uppermost echelons of society; a clubby clientele of financiers and aristocrats (in fact Wiltons itself garnered a Royal Warrant, for purveying oysters to the Royal Household, in 1836). It is the antithesis of London’s fast-moving, trend-driven, Instagram-courting ‘foodie’ scene. Instead, Wiltons is a sort of ur-restaurant, existing in its own dimension; a quiet pocket of timeless serenity – immune to, and utterly separate from, the world of pop-ups, concept menus, vodka sommeliers and celebrity chefs (indeed, as many writers who’ve visited Wiltons over the years have pointed out, whilst it doubtless is possible to find out who the chef currently is, that’s completely beside the point - Wiltons serves Proper English Food, but more on that later…).

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Max Olesker

Contributing Editor at Esquire, and Associate Editor of Esquire’s Big Black Book, Max has also written features for The Times, The Observer, and Harper’s Bazaar. He also performs across the world one as half of comedy double-act Max & Ivan (BBC Radio 4’s Casebook of Max & Ivan, BBC 2’s W1A).