There has been a flurry of restaurant openings in recent months, but one in particular has caught my eye. Not for its location, theme or food, but simply for its name.
Boulestin is the brainchild of veteran restaurant entrepreneur Joel Kissin, who is also responsible for some of the capital’s best-known establishments, including The Bluebird and Quaglino’s. With this latest venture, he has once again made a statement – the restaurant takes its name from the legendary Xavier Marcel Boulestin.
Marcel Boulestin was a jack of practically all trades, from writing to interior design and even did a spell in the military, but it was food where he really made his mark. An anglophile, Boulestin moved from Paris to London in 1906 and in 1923 achieved fame when he published his first cookbook. Then, in 1925, he opened a restaurant in Covent Garden which became an overnight success, and a favourite of the rich and famous of the day.
The new Boulestin is a tribute to the man himself, and one that I think he would have been proud of. Situated in the depths of clubland in what is known as the wrong end of St James’s Street the location itself is an homage to the past. From an understated yet inviting facade, you enter what can only be described as a grand and glamorous interior. The restaurant seemed fairly quiet on the Monday night that we visited, which is not surprising as due to its location it will rely on word of mouth and recommendations to fill its tables.
The food is classic French cooking at its best with dishes such as Canapés d’Anchois, Confit de Canard, Cassoulet and Veal Cutlet all staking a place on the menu. With this type of cuisine, it’s the execution that counts as you’re essentially being judged against variations of dishes sampled many a time before. While our starters of Soupe de Poissons and Severn & Wye Smoked Salmon were perfectly nice, it was the main and dessert where I saw what Boulestin was capable of. I chose the Rib- Eye steak – as good a test of the standard of cooking as anything. The result was a perfectly cooked steak, both juicy and flavoursome – I would go so far to say it was one of the most superb bits of meat I have had in recent months. The desserts were equally well-executed, with classics such as Lemon Cheesecake, Tarte Légère aux Pommes and Sauternes Custard all present and correct on the menu.
The wine list is as you would expect in a French restaurant – long and confusing at times, but you can tell that some real thought has gone into the diverse selection. The service was good if a little over-attentive for my liking, though I suspect this was down to a quiet Monday night and an over eagerness to please, which is by no means a bad thing. There will be many cynics out there who will ask whether we really need another French restaurant, and with The Wolseley only a stone’s throw away on Piccadilly, Boulestin has some tough competition. Kissin, though, is not the sort of man to leave things to chance, and with the kitchen headed by Andrew Woodford, formally of Colbert in Sloane Square (sister restaurant to The Wolseley) and both décor and food well-executed, I can in fact see a place for Boulestin.
It’s small enough to remain intimate and discreet, making the perfect location for the business lunches and dinners for which the neighbouring Wilton’s has become so renowned. It also shouts elegance and glamour – all that is needed is some of the Wolseley’s regular celebrity clientèle and the new Boulestin will become as firm a part of London restaurant scene as the original did 78 years ago.
By Harry Jarman