Featured Restaurant: St James

25th January 2019

30 High Street • Bushey • WD23 3HL • 020 8950 2480

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

Owner Alfonso bounds over to greet me with an exuberance that belies the calm atmosphere of the restaurant. I don’t live in Bushey, and don’t visit St James as often as I’d like, but my cordial and charismatic host never forgets a face. He’s a genuine people-person, a natural at making each and every guest feel special.

The Husband (H) and I have walked through the village to get here, on a bitingly cold January evening, but now we’re inside everything is… just… fine… In fact, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be at this precise moment. I love the welcome I’ve just received; I love the decor: the urban-loft-exposed-brickwork-meets-rarefied-country-house-dining-room; I’m enjoying the jazz music playing in the background that hits the right note (metaphorically and actually) and I appreciate the formal-but-relaxed ethos of the waiting staff (such a contrast from being served in a pub by a well-meaning but inexperienced teenager).

The menu is a mix of classic European dishes with contemporary twists. Everything looks wonderful, and I’m finding it incredibly difficult to choose. Can I have it all please? H rapidly selects Home Made Duck Spring Rolls while I eventually plump for a popular classic I’ve never tasted before – Twice Baked Cheese Soufflé Gratin. I’m not exactly sure what to expect from the dish that strikes fear into the amateur-dinner-party-cook, but I figure that if I’m going to try it, I might as well try the St James version first…

It’s utterly sublime. A soft, savoury ‘scone’ with a beguilingly crunchy top lies in the middle of a dish of bubbling cheese. The complex, nutty flavour of the cheeses used (mature cheddar, Gruyère…?) stops the creamy sauce from being in any way cloying. It’s a rich, salty, fatty kick of deliciousness. H is just as happy with his spring rolls. Slow-cooked sweet duck, mixed with peppers and onions, is encased in perfectly cooked filo pastry that provides the requisite crunch. The drizzle of zingy plum sauce, and the garnish of cool, peppery watercress complete the plate.

Wavering between cod and sea bass for my main, I’d been prompted by the Manager to go for the former. The cod, he suggested in his lyrical Italian accent, “is a warming Sicilian dish.” And so it is. I’m presented with a huge Roast Fillet of Cod on a bed of tomatoey Messinese sauce (typical of the town of Messina on Sicily's North-Eastern coast) that’s full of olives, capers and bite-sized potato pieces, and simmered down to a smoky, deep-red richness. Every element works in perfect, piquant harmony. H has also chosen fish: Poached Smoked Haddock gently cooked to perfection and served in a creamy peppercorn sauce, on fluffy mash, and heaped high with crispy onion rings. The distinctive, briny taste of the haddock is soothed by the velvety mash and elevated by the peppercorn kick. This is January comfort food at its tastiest.

We finish with the Toblerone Cheesecake, a surprisingly light blend of chocolate, nougat and almonds, that's served with a tart cherry compote… and we reflect with contentment that every dish we’ve been served has been beautifully presented and consistently delicious.

St James is all about fine dining – but it's offered with a confident nonchalance; decent portions of exceptional ingredients are valued over self-conscious fussiness – in an atmosphere that’s polished, but relaxed, not hushed and intimidating.

STARTERS: £5.50-£8.95 • MAINS: £16.95-£26.95
DESSERTS: £2.00-£6.50 • HOUSE WINE: £17.50

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