At Elaine’s restaurant in Manhattan, that 1970s celebrity bolthole and feeder school for Studio 54, the cantankerous owner Elaine once directed a customer to the bathroom with the immortal line: “turn right at Michael Caine.” Now, that probably didn’t happen — for one thing, most of the glitterati at Elaine’s tended to be both terribly drunk and frightfully coked up most of the time (you could buy it from behind the bar, which was useful as the food was pretty dreadful.) But it still rings somehow true, in the way that only made up things really can.
Fifty or so years hence, and one can imagine the handsomely dressed, charming waiters at Mount St. Restaurant saying something similarly memorably — only they’ll navigate the clientele via references to “the Picasso”, “the Matisse,” or perhaps “the Freud” (a painting, though a Bella or a Matthew works, too.) I think that’s got rather more glamour to it than any celebrity name-drop, don’t you? If this is to be London’s current iteration of a genuine power restaurant like Elaine’s (and famous people have already piled in here by the carriage load — but we’ll get to King Charles later) then I’ll take it. It is owned by Artfarm (of Hauser & Wirth galleries, with Ewan Venters at the helm), so it has the pedigree and the chums. But more importantly: it is a beautifully designed space with beautiful things in it that makes lovely food for nice people. In Mayfair, that’s not always a given. At all.
We sat below a Picasso — a tiny little original sketch of a skull, I think, though with Pablo it’s sometimes hard to tell, which is part of the fun, I’m told. But my eyes were more often transfixed on the floor, which I imagined was the type of floor that a director of 1960s Spaghetti Westerns (and owner of an Italo Disco record label, perhaps) might have in his Californian party palazzo — a sort of krazy terrazzo tiling with large chunks of emerald green and storm grey and ripe peach stones set amongst it. The chairs — lacquered and gleaming red — were the colour of his convertible, surely. They put me in mind of that photograph by William Eccleston of the blood red ceiling, which is exactly the sort of reference you feel you can make in this place. It’s all very sleek and fun. What will we call it? Mid-century maximalist? Gaudy gallerist? I just know it will form the moodboard of a thousand Belgravia interior designers when they’re putting ideas together for recently divorced men with big budgets and statement eyewear.
Then the food came out, ushered in swiftly and smoothly by waiters in double-breasted charcoal worsted suits worth of King Charles (again, patience.) We had the mock turtle croquette (made from stupendous, succulent veal) which you dunk in splendid, sultry oyster mayonnaise. Also: a spectacular omelette Arnold Bennet — a dish, like the ‘turtle’, which harks back to the high Victoriana of the red-brick building, but which seems thoroughly fresh and sharp here. Then it was pigeons in Pimlico — an 18th century recipe, apparently, for a clever, moreish, gamey delight which the decent red Burgundy seemed made for. (It’s essentially a pigeon wellington, softened by duck liver and cut through by a nicely tart red cabbage.) My guest had the Loin of Highland venison with parsnip, which was equally good — thoroughly autumnal and reassuring and up-bucking, like a hearty slap on the back from a chortling ghillie.
Much has been made of the lobster pie for two, which would be Instagram bait — the pink lobster head pokes out from the glossy golden pastry — if anyone here stooped to Instagram. (We’ll have to go back for it, if only for the selfies.) But even more has been made of the fact that, soon after its opening, King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla were spotted dining here — one of their first forays out from Clarence House since he got the top job.
This says a lot about Mount St. (‘Fit for a King’, etc etc.) But I think it says even more about dear Charles. The Queen’s favourite restaurant, as much as the Queen would ever really have a favourite anything, was Bellamy’s, not too far away, on the other side of Berkeley Square. She dined there on her 80th birthday, for example, and someone once told me that someone once definitely didn’t tell him that she liked the chilled lobster soufflé. Whilst Bellamy’s does proper good scran, as the Queen might have said, it’s all pretty traditional, and quite right too. But the royal seal of approval descending on Mount St. marks a new shift in sensibilities for the Firm. Slightly more adventurous, perhaps; a place of relaxed rigour and aesthetic élan; a more Continental lean, dare I say it. A classicist and aesthete to the last, it is hard to know what the King would have seen in the Picasso — a small, chiaroscuro mask of death staring quietly, broodingly out at him from over Camilla’s shoulder. But I’m sure he would have rated the bubble and squeak.
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