To 45 Jermyn Street for a 'working lunch' with the talented artist Toby Ward (www.tobyward.net) with whom I am collaborating on our next wine list, to check out the latest restaurant venture from the enlightened team at Fortnum & Mason. After hastily snapping a shot of the exterior I was greeted by a genuinely enthusiastic doorman who enquired whether I had got his 'good side'. This exemplary, and amazingly unaffected, level of customer-service provided the welcome backdrop to one of the best lunches I've enjoyed this year. I must declare a vested interest at this juncture as we supply F&M with quite a few wines but I assure you this is praise not puff and I spend more time browsing and sluicing on licensed premises than is justifiable.
Other than having engaging and attentive individuals front of house the next big challenge for any dining establishment is the interior design and 'ambience' and they've really nailed it here. There's lots of burnished wood and leather and we debated the colour of the latter at length. Our waiter suggested 'saffron', Toby 'paprika', I'd go with 'pumpkin' but it's warm and autumnal and looks great on the semi-circular booths. In true 21st century style there are no table cloths but the acoustics have not been overlooked and this is a very pleasant space in which to dine. Certainly not intimidating and most definitely welcoming which is a rare achievement for a new opening in the epicentre of a commercial capital.
The menu is minimalist but well-considered and is accompanied by a wine list that will, deservedly, win awards with lots of great offerings by the glass and carafe and incredibly benign pricing for this well-heeled location. We kicked off with a bottle of sparkling water and a carafe of unimpeachable 'Pazo Barrantes' Albariño (£18.50) which Toby paired with wonderfully garlicky snails and I enjoyed with a peerless dish of borlotti beans and octopus which was a heavenly combination of deft fast and slow cooking which will draw me back time and again. At £9 it is the best starter currently available in the West End although that might be being harsh on Andrew Edmunds' whose Lexington Street premises I visit too frequently to critique objectively.
I (almost) never opt for a vegetarian main course but I do love a pithivier and the mushroom version at Number 45 (napped by Grace Dent in last Friday's Evening Standard) was an object of wonder. Golden puff pastry atop a medley of earthy fungi cooked to perfection made a sublime foil to a carafe of Chambolle-Musigny 2010 from Domaine Patrice & Michéle Rion which had us smiling in contentment.
We rounded off an exquisite repast with Welsh Rarebit (£9.50) and a glass of Ridge Vineyards 'Lytton Springs' 2013 Zinfandel-based blend (£13) and seriously strong espresso. I don't score restaurants on principle as there are too many variables (most notably one's company) but if I did this would get a solid '9/10'. I can't wait to go back!