Dining trends may come and go in London but one thing remains: the Michelin guide is still the capital’s most influential guide to eating out. Much mystery surrounds the process for awarding the coveted stars, with many restauranteurs, chefs and industry experts eager to voice their own opinion. Indeed, there is said not to be any set criteria or checklist that inspectors will use to award (or remove) one, two or three of these prestigious stars. Rigorous and continuous inspection means it is much harder to maintain a Michelin star rating than it is to obtain it in the first place. It is fair to say that those who do manage to retain a star rating for a period of time do so through being remarkably consistent in their excellence.
St James’s Hotel & Club in Mayfair is a place that knows this as well as any. Its own unique version of excellence and elegance is showcased in an intimate setting on a quiet side street that belies its central location a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly.
As the name suggests, St James’s has many strings to its bow, offering its guests and customers the very appealing combination of private club, luxury hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant. This is not without its challenges, as Food and Beverage Director Antonio Vigorito explains; “You’ve got to think about your members, the locals, the trends and the demographic of your guests when putting together any aspect of your product offer, whether it’s your menu, your wine list or how you approach customer service”. It’s clear that consistency of service across the different outlets is of upmost important to St James’s, who take a personalised approach to service. Acknowledging their guests by name and often following up on previous conversations with members and regulars when they next visit are some of the small details insisted upon, and some of the key reasons guests continue to flock back.
This personalised service continues through into details such as the thoughtfully curated wine list. Working closely with independent wine merchants Corney & Barrow, St. James’s possesses an array of fine wines from the likes of Domaine Leflaive, J. J. Prum and Giacomo Conterno alongside a very interesting By The Glass list. Offerings include lesser-spotted varieties such as Spatburgunder from Germany’s Rheingau region and a Petit Courbu/Gros Manseng blend from the Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh appellation in Gascony. This makes the choosing and pairing of wines a very interactive service, especially with the exquisite sommelier team lead by Gonzalo Rodriguez Diaz on hand to suggest the perfect wine for the meal. With a menu and wine list as exceptional as theirs, it isn’t hard to find the ideal wine partner for your meal; Gonzalo lists Honey Glazed Duck with Celeriac and Boulangere Potatoes matched with Bonneau du Martray Corton 2005 as one of his all-time favourites.
With such a proud heritage of excellence and consistency, it might seem unsurprising that on-site restaurant Seven Park Place has maintained its Michelin star for the best part of a decade under the stewardship of Executive Chef William Drabble. Visiting St James’s you would be forgiven for thinking that their achievement appears to be effortless, but after Antonio divulges further information into the Michelin inspection process, it becomes clear it is anything but. Not only is there no set criteria to follow but restaurants will only learn that they have been visited at the end of a meal when an inspector (who the identities of are closely guarded secrets) will reveal themselves as such. Equally whilst Antonio muses that it’s “probably about the food, the quality of the ingredients and the execution and combination of flavours and textures”, the reality is he simply doesn’t know for sure how they are being marked as inspectors will provide very little, if any, feedback. If this isn’t tough enough, restaurants never know when an inspector will visit and can never assume that because they have been visited once in a year that they won’t be again.
It seems therefore that maintaining that prestigious Michelin star is a full-time occupation in itself but this doesn’t mean that St James’s are happy to settle with their lot. Hinting that they are aiming to achieve their second star, Antonio explains that St James’s are scrutinising every aspect of the guest experience from initial greeting to farewell and collating every bit of feedback they have to look for ways to improve. And with the obvious passion for the industry bubbling behind the walls in St James’, who knows what could be around the corner?