Veneta, St James’s Market

p-venetaKudos to Salt Yard Group for taking this restaurant’s Venetian theme seriously. This isn’t just another upmarket but generic Italian, it is a true exploration of the gastronomic culture of one specific and special place.

“A new destination for London” say the developers of St James’s Market. While branding phrases like these conjure up images of odds-and-sods shopping centres recently opened in Watford, St James’s Market is actually very pleasant. This is likely because of its location. Tucked away behind Piccadilly, the small collection of premium shops and restaurants is conveniently central but quietly sheltered from the nearby horrors of Piccadilly Circus and its many awful adjoining establishments.

Veneta calls St James’s Market home. It is the latest restaurant from Salt Yard Group, who’re the people behind such excellent restaurants as Ember Yard and Opera Tavern. Open now for a couple of months to largely positive fanfare, most people have appreciated the impressively researched and exquisitely curated menu of Venice-inspired small plates. Italian cuisine is of course the starting point, but Venice’s past positions as a gate to the world and important European trading port are also reflected. Dishes such as “Chicken braised in Almond Milk with Medjool Dates and Saffron” reference Venice’s successful history of merchant trade with the Mamluk and Ottoman empires of the Middle East and modern day Turkey. Bit of an education then, this menu.

The menu is divided into several sections: small plates of pasta, meat, fish, and vegetable, a raw fish bar, cicchetti, large plates, and desserts. It’s all about the small plates though. Kid goat ragu with pappardelle came correctly al dente and masculine in flavour. Mushroom and truffle risotto was cooked well, if perhaps a little light on the truffle. Tender baked scallops with their feet on were served with a tasty pumpkin puree. Chargrilled octopus was pleasingly soft, and the aforementioned chicken with dates was a delightfully sweet and very moreish dish. Cooking throughout was at a high standard, which is impressive given the kitchen at this stage is a new-born and the menu a long list to get to grips with.

We finished with a reasonable tiramisu and drinks from Veneta’s hot chocolate menu. Rich, semi-sweet, Venezuelan hot chocolates with whipped cream and cinnamon infused milk. A choice of syrups can be added: pistachio and cardamom, Earl Grey, and orange with Grappa. Delicious.

I hasten to call Veneta “authentic” as the food is certainly considered and exaggerated in its design. But the flavours are all there, and the cooking carried off with confidence and ability. The menu is one of the most interesting of new openings in London, and that’s what makes this restaurant so exciting.

3 Norris Street, St. James’s Market, London. SW1Y 4RJ.

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