Boulestin is a pretty restaurant on St James’s Street, between the posh fag shop (Davidoff) and the old palace, which the Hanoverians thought so ghastly that they moved out to Kensington Gardens, a fresher hell full of squirrels. This is one of the more fascinating West End streets because it is 300 years old and is, as such, the only street in the West End in which the ancient nobility look safe, or even human; you pass tourists, rats and also dukes wafting towards White’s gentlemen’s club, which is duchess-free and where a grown man can be treated like a baby, and not in a perverted way.
So Boulestin, named for the famous French chef and photographer Xavier Marcel Boulestin, who looks, from my swift research, like Major Strasser from Casablanca, but fat. Perhaps I cannot see through the moustache? Boulestin became a chef due to dinner-party racism; he was in interior design and was introduced to a publisher, who assumed that because he was French he should write a cookery book. He did, and became a celebrity chef — the Restaurant Boulestin was open in London from 1927 to 1994; it outlived him by half a century. He was the first TV chef, father of a dynasty of monsters, although at least he didn’t lick the screen, sell Knorr stock cubes, or go on Strictly Come Dancing.
Boulestin has nothing to do with Marcel Boulestin, except it is French and it sells his book, Simple French Cooking for English Homes. It is owned by Joel Kissin, who was for many years Terence Conran’s partner, the specialist in 1980s chrome palaces who reopened Quaglino’s.
It is under a pretty Georgian house, all smiling windows and polished brass. It is a restaurant in the back and a café (named Marcel, which is a cat’s name) in the front. It feels like a large dolls’ house, recently repainted; fresh, new, almost inhumanly clean with crisp gold signage. It is very feminine, and passes for a ghetto in St James’s, which is a male parish, even if the houses are uncut wedding cakes; female TV people eat here in jewelled dresses and beige make-up masks, and elderly ladies from the country who buy strange socks for their husbands in Jermyn Street hover by the bread. It has good bright art and apple-green chairs, and a black-and-white chequered floor; no red, thankfully, which is death to French restaurants, unless they are Maxim’s, which caters for the dead. There is a small garden for spring time, and a mad decorative swerve downstairs in the private room, which is, rather oddly, theme park Olde England. If there is a joke here about Nigel Farage, dead drunk and swiftly carried to the vaults, I cannot find it. Perhaps the first designer died, and handed over to Playmobil? Otherwise everything is dainty.
The food? It is French, but the menu is written in cracked Franglais — what is wrong with simple English? This menu is loitering in the Channel, where no one wants to be. No matter.
A veal cutlet with sage and lemon is perfectly cooked, seared outside and bloody within, and a risotto with ceps, so easy to bungle, is sweet, clean. The food at Boulestin is rather better than at the Wolseley nearby, although there are fewer celebrities, fewer mirrors and, as yet, no buzz. Perhaps the puddings explain it? They are toy puddings, all melted sugar: a chocolate and coffee dome which opens with a crack, and passion fruit pavlova piled high, and almost in a land beyond white. Perhaps strawberry is better though? What does Mary Berry think? I think she would like Boulestin. Kissin made this restaurant for an unknown woman. There is even topiary out front.
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Boulestin, St James’s Street, London SW1 1EF; tel: 020 7930 2030.
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