My old teachers would be astounded that I have managed, at last, to stick to the subject. According to the weekly waffle-ometer published by industry magazine Restaurant, I spend more time talking about the food and restaurant in my reviews than any other critic.
Take last week. The graph shows that 95 per cent of my review was spent on the food or restaurant and only 2 per cent on random waffle. Compare this to the 53 per cent and 56 per cent spent on the subject from those naughty boys up the back of the class, The Times's Giles Coren and The Sunday Times's Michael Winner.
But why does topping the chart feel so much like failing? I'm obviously boring the pants off everyone by banging on about the food, service, space, context and value, as if such things were important.
So let me tell you instead what I did on my holidays in Pescara on the Adriatic coast. It's where the Italians go for their Italian seaside holidays, so you get more for your euro because there are so few "foreign" tourists. It has a single grand beachside hotel, 10 miles of sun-loungers, lunches of tomato-smeared pizzette for €2, and dinners of pesce crudi and chilled local Trebbiano... no, I can't do it.
Dammit, I knew I should have taken a celebrity to dinner so I could have talked about them. But I don't know any celebrities. Ditto for insanely rich friends whose names I could have kept dropping. I don't even have any exciting projects, books or telly appearances to plug.
So let me at least review Brasserie St Jacques in as few words as possible. It is in St James's, where Pétrus was before it went to the Berkeley. It is the 51st restaurant of entrepreneurial restaurateur Claudio Pulze, and it marks a return to the stoves – as consultant – of former three-Michelin-starred chef Pierre Koffmann.
It is all leather banquettes, bare and clothed tables and aperitif-poster'd, mustardy walls, and the menu is so hewn from brasserie rock that you could order without looking at it – duck confit, beef tartare, cassoulet, crème caramel.
You can start with pastis, Dubonnet or Fischer beer, then hunker down with a slab of terrine campagnarde (£6) that has a good depth of livery flavour, or start with a simple platter of perfumed pink jambon de Bayonne (£7.50) that lets great produce speak for itself. Head chef Ashley Hancill, last seen at Chelsea's Pig's Ear, is clever enough not to speak too much on its behalf. So a salade Niçoise (£7) is fresh and generous, combining shreddy confit tuna with baby gem lettuces, cherry tomatoes, potatoes and squeaky beans. Roast baby chicken with caramelised shallots (£14) goes beyond its job description; the spatchcocked bird daubed with mustard and swimming in pan juices. It works well with a subtle, supple Domaine Brusset Les Boudalles Côtes du Ventoux (£22).
But this is Too. Much. Information. I won't get knocked off my goodie-two-shoes perch if I keep this up. So forget that the tarte citron (£6.50) is more moussey than lush, and that the "floating island" meringue (£5.50) is so deliciously light it is in danger of breaking its dribbled bonds of toffee and floating up into the chandeliers.
The pre-clubbing patrons – not that sort of clubbing, my dear – could make it feel more Brasserie St James's than Brasserie St Jacques, but smart-as-a-whip manager Jean-Claude Ali-Cherif and his staff keep the energy levels high with their obvious rapport and character. They could well become a draw in their own right.
And what a sweet idea to have a noon to 6pm menu for those who don't have time for lunch, or who only have time for lunch at 4pm. It is even open for pain au chocolat and café au lait from 8am, the true test of a neighbourhood brasserie. But you must be wondering what a celebrity would think of it by now. Sorry.
SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK 10-11 NEEDS HELP 12 OK 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH 14 GOOD 15 VERY GOOD 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS 17 SPECIAL, CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Brasserie St Jacques, 33 St. James's Street, London SW1, tel: 020 7839 1007
Open Mon-Sat, 8am-11pm; Sun, 9am-10pm. Around £80 for two, incl wine and service.
Second helpings: More kudos to Koffmann
Le Champignon Sauvage
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The two-starred David Everitt-Matthias cites his one-time mentor Koffman as an inspiration. Try roasted hake with chestnut velouté and rose deer with beetroot
78 Commercial Quay, Leith, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 555 1755
Tom Kitchin, who cooked with Koffmann for five years, combines French technique and Scottish produce. Try foie gras with haggis and langoustines with pig's head
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The ginger-haired Aikens names Koffman as the chef he most admires. Try pigeon with foie gras mousse and poached turbot with clams and crab gnocchiReuse content