Wild Honey remains one of the defining restaurants for London, and Anthony Demetre one of the key people in the capital’s food and drink
The key to success in the restaurant business is a chimera, a subtle and shifting thing that escapes many and is caught and exacted by the fortunate and able few. Marketing can help, good food can help, location can help, but none can guarantee success.
Some joints have bad food and win out, some in the middle of nowhere attract a loyal following, some launch on PR budgets that put a wind in their sales that lasts for years.
Getting the full equation, which includes staff, suppliers, economic trends, fashion and a host of other variables, right seems like juggling cats but the Will Smith/Anthony Demetre axis had those felines flying.
When Arbutus launched in 2006 it heralded a shift in what the capital thought was possible in a restaurant. The wine list was flexible, the food exceptional and good value; it didn’t compromise and the Michelin star that duly arrived in its first year heralded a new era.
Independent of thought and dedicated to a profession he’d come to a little late in life, Demetre’s cooking sang of seasonality, freshness, and less-used ingredients: Arbutus (recently closed in ever-more expensive Soho as a reaction to a rent review and considering its options) laid the ground for others to follow.
Wild Honey had a similar brief over in Mayfair not long after Arbutus and similarly got its Michy star in its first year. Wild Honey is about to celebrate its 10th anniversary and its riff on European themes with British suppliers is still going strong. (And while we’re here: what a name, Wild Honey. Evocative and zinging, like the food.)
Demetre will keep running Wild Honey as Smith leaves the partnership to move back to Scotland. But it is Demetre’s stamp on the menu and the fresh sheep’s ricotta gnocchi with pumpkin, the Galician octopus, the haunch of venison, the roast saddle of rabbit, the simple approach that lets the flavours do the talking, that will go untroubled.
Demetre had had to cut short a Navy career due to injury and he turned to the kitchen, working his way up through hotels and grand kitchens, and with Rhodes and Loubet, chef-director at Putney Bridge when it won a Michelin star.
Any independent restaurant that goes its own way and sets high standards getting to 10 years old is some going, and Wild Honey is in a select group now.
The Smith-Demetre partnership opened a large Paris-style joint, Les Deux Salons, in 2010 and it is now in the hands of Conran. Arbutus may surface in a new place, a new form. Demetre has opened Urban Cotterie and is one of those ‘how do they fit it all in’ high achievers, also appearing on TV regularly.
But in all this, Wild Honey remains, gloriously fresh 10 years on, and looking forward to the next ten.