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Just St James

Eat at Just St James and you join William Pitt the Younger, Napoleon, and Neville Chamberlain as customers of this high-brow venue. Admittedly, the above were patrons of Just St James in its former life - as a Lloyds bank - but it still adds some serious pedigree to this imposing London restaurant.

Situated on the corner of St James's Street and King Street and only a stone's throw from the likes of Buckingham Palace, The Ritz and The Royal Academy, the striking Edwardian building may have retained its classic features (high ornate ceiling; vast, marble columns; archways; floor-to-ceiling windows) but this is tempered with contemporary touches.

A long wooden-topped bar runs down the length of the room, low, comfy leather sofas take up one corner of this enormous space and a glass lift links the restaurant to the mezzanine floor.

We visited on a cold, cheerless, wintry Friday evening and were greeted by a blast of warm air as we entered. The restaurant is partially situated under the mezzanine floor which means you can miss out on the high-ceilinged grandeur of the rest of the room but are afforded plenty of space between tables.

The menu has no single culinary influence but is designed to reflect some of the chef's (Peter Gladwin of Gladwin's and the Bridge) favourite and most successful dishes. The oriental - seared scallops with pak Choy and Papaya - sit comfortably alongside the traditional - medallions of Aberdeen Angus Beef - and the original - breast of duck with mango, lime and red pepper.

The restaurant's motif, a leaf which is found everywhere from the windows to the carpet, plates and matches, rather puzzled us. On the first page of the menu you are greeted by a cheery chef, poised to carve not a hunk of meat, but a large leaf. The impression is that this is a vegetarian restaurant but a quick glance at the menu proves firmly otherwise. In fact, if you are carnivorously challenged, there's not that much for you.

This is firmly a meat lovers paradise - something we readily embraced. For the first course, I chose the foie gras on dill pancakes with blackened grapes and rocket (£9.80) and my partner had woodland mushrooms filled with wood pigeon, red onion and blackberries (£9.50)

The richness of the pigeon was offset by big, succulent blackberries and slivers of red onion while my foie gras was of the fabulous melt-in-the-mouth variety and accompanied by a complimentary glass of white wine.

In fact wine is something that Just St James does very well. A greenhouse-type structure, called 'the wine room', houses a world wide selection of wines many of which were available by the glass. With bottles rising to £275 (I kid you not), we exercised considerable restraint and ordered a very good Cotes du Rhone for a very modest £15.80.

My partner had developed a taste for game and followed the pigeon with a 'triple breast of game' (£16.80). Partridge, pheasant and quail arrived, beautifully arranged and accompanied by rosti potato cakes and a rich jus (the popular term for what was formerly known as 'sauce'). "One of the birds" was overdone, I'm sorry I can't be more specific as my companion, not being a game expert, was somewhat confused about the identity of each.

My smoked haddock and leek fishcakes with leek and tomato vinaigrette (£12.50) were perfectly cooked but I could have done with a more genorous splash of the sauce (or vinaigrette as I should call it) which was a little stintingly served.

The greatest plaudits of the evening I reserve for my desert. Although there are plenty of options for the sweet-toothed (treacle sponge pudding; chocolate, prune and armagnac tart) I went healthy and ordered 'an ensemble of exotic fruit'. This took the shape of a tropical fish with a fanned mango as its fins, a gooseberry for the eye, and a combination of pineapple, star fruit, passion fruit and pomegranate seeds making up the body. A miniature passion fruit crème brulee completed the picture.

After a substantial first and main course, this for me was the perfect, light, palate-cleansing end to a meal. My companion, who stoically made his way through a large, sticky sponge pudding would disagree. For him, 'light' is not a word which has much currency. Perhaps it's sufficient to say that Just St James is a restaurant which has something for everyone.

Holly Acland, February 2001

Just St James: Tel: 020 7976 2222
Opening hours: Monday to Friday lunch from 12 noon to 3pm
Monday to Thursday dinner from 6pm to 11pm
Friday and Saturday dinner from 6pm to midnight
Prices: Three course dinner with wine around £45 a head
Transport: Five minutes walk from Green Park or Piccadilly Circus tubes

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