St. James’s has been the beating heart of London for well over three centuries. It’s home to generations of British aristocrats and politicos, but also a vibrant community of artists and tradespeople who’ve made the area into an enduring hotspot for wine, whisky, food and plenty else.
A historic playground for the posh and powerful, St. James’s boasts a stunning array of Georgian mansions anchored by Henry VIII’s St. James’s Palace, a longtime residence of kings and queens. Neighborhood coffee and hot chocolate houses that were trendy in the 17th and 18th century developed into the many exclusive social clubs that now line Pall Mall, which locals refer to as “clubland.” Those who make their way past the bow-tied doormen at these clubs can still indulge in their quintessentially British dishes like lamb kidneys, Sunday roast or smoked eel, as well as their deep, ancient cellars of rare Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port and Madeira.
But St. James’s isn’t just for the crusty upper classes. Hidden deep in the neighborhood’s alleyways and courtyards are bustling dive bars from the 17th century still serving generations of working class and royal clientele alike. Nearby chop houses, once stodgy and predictable, have been revived with fresher takes on British cuisine and an adventurous contemporary wine culture.
“There’s a sense of grandeur in Saint James’s,” says Barbara Drew, MW, Content Editor at world-renowned wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd. “It’s full of grand, marble-fronted bank offices and Saint James’s Palace, with Buckingham Palace just around the corner. But at the same time, there’s something new and exciting happening all the time.”
Berry Bros. & Rudd
Great Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant bbr.com
- Berry Bros. & Rudd has been at 3 St. James’s Street since 1698. We didn’t start out selling wines and spirits. Our founder, the Widow Bourne, sold coffee here to the local coffee houses. The same year she set up, St. James’s Palace which is just on the corner opposite us, became the primary residence of the King. Suddenly this little corner of coffee shops became the most important street in the city.
- By the 1700’s we started selling spirits and wines. So we’ve always been adapting, but we’re still family owned and run by members of the Berry and Rudd families. We have about two acres of cellar on site—basically two football pitches—right in the heart of St. James’s and underneath our feet. The cellars are on two different levels, going down about 30 feet at the lowest point.
- Bordeaux is still number one amongst our customers. En Primeur is very exciting here; there’s always a flurry of activity around May and June when all the chateaux release their new wines. There’s a lot of diversity of styles even for people who are less keen on traditional Bordeaux. Particularly white Bordeaux, which gets overlooked, but it’s such a food-friendly wine. And it ages so beautifully.
- For those who want to break out of those classic European regions but want wines that can age well and be delicious whenever you want to open them, drink more Australian wine. There’s a perception that Australia only has these incredibly heavy reds with no finesse. But wines from regions like Margaret River, Cullen Wines, or Leeuwin Estate have a real fine-wine pedigree; they’re made in a very elegant style. There’s definitely a New-World character there, but they’re not too rich or heavy. Tasmanian Chardonnays are quite similar in style to many white Burgundies.
- Burgundy is always, always popular, but more and more customers are looking at a diverse range of under-the-radar, younger Burgundy producers. And there’s a lot of interest in Italian reds, particularly for collectors. If you’re a Burgundy nut and get excited about terroir differences and different vineyards, Italy is really the place to look next. Barolo and Barbaresco, certainly, but also everyday drinking wines: the Barberas and Dolcettos and so on. There’s also quite a lot of curiosity about New World wines, particularly in terms of price point.
- Champagne never goes out of fashion and we’re starting to see increasing interest in German wine again; drier Rieslings in particular from the Rheingau or the Pfalz. Also, English sparkling wine—here, everyone loves it, which is really lovely to see for such a tiny little wine industry.
- In the UK, we’re very reserved when we go into shops. Generally, we’re all far too polite to say anything or ask a question. At BBR, we’re not going to jump on you as you come through the door. But our shop staff are so incredibly knowledgeable, they’re complete wine nerds just waiting for someone to let loose their passion about wine.
Yasmine Taherbeigi, Digital Marketing and Customer Relationship Manager
67 Pall Mall
Tony private members club for wine collectors and somms 67pallmall.com
- You’ve got two different types of clubs in London: the old fashioned, very British institutions that have been there for centuries, and the places to be seen like Annabel’s or the Arts Club. 67 Pall Mall was the first new club on Pall Mall in 100 years. – YT
- “We have the largest by-the-glass list in the world—over 800 wines at any time—in addition to some 6,000 bottles to choose from. We taste a lot of incredible wines here, things like Petrus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Château Margaux. But the most memorable wines aren’t necessarily the most expensive, they’re the wines that created a feeling, an emotion. – EM
- On any given day here, you’re likely to be seated next to producers of the most expensive Bordeaux in the world or a Master of Wine tasting with one of the best producers of California wines. A lot of our members are also studying with the court of Master Sommeliers or the WSET. Whenever they’re preparing for exams, they come in here and they say something like “give me ten Pinot Noir by the glass from different countries in 25 minutes.” We take it as a challenge. – EM
- Where else can you taste 25 ml pours from every area of Bordeaux in one afternoon? This is the only place where you’ll see sommeliers on their lunch break, in between a double shift, studying for wine exams. – YT
- It can get quite raucous in the evening with members sending each other wine in playful arguments, kind of like a big house party, shouting things like ‘I can’t believe you don’t like this!’” You might be sitting at Table 300, the long, shared table which is the best table in the house, and someone will say, “get five bottles up from my cellar” and they’ll do an impromptu blind tasting with the somms and whoever else is there, just dragging people in. – YT
- A lot of people like to sit in the “naughty corner” [a corner salon outfitted with cozy sofas, cleverly placed fertility sculptures and cheeky nudes on the wall]. You have a little bit more privacy there. It’s the perfect place to sit while on a date, or if you want to chill down with a cocktail, whisky, Armagnac or Cognac. – EM
THE RED LION CROWN PASSAGE
Ancient hideaway where neighborhood sommeliers and wine traders (and everyone else) gathers for post-shift drinks instagram.com/redlionstjames
- The pub’s over 400 years old. We don’t claim to be the oldest, we’re just the second in London that went and got a license.
- It’s always been a favorite with royalty. They say there used to be a tunnel between here and St. James’s Palace so Charles II could sneak off to have clandestine affairs with his mistress, Nell Gwyn. I don’t know if that’s true. But the Queen Mother used to come here, and we’ve had other minor royals come in.
- I like to call it a local’s club in the middle of St. James’s. It’s a very old fashioned, Old World pub. It’s all very dark old wood, and these beautiful stained glass windows that are hundreds of years old. I know people who’ve worked in this area for a decade and never knew this alleyway existed. It’s really a quaint passageway. There are these old-fashioned lamps that light up at night and it’s just beautiful.
- It’s a cross section of everyone here—road sweeps and lords, office people and tourists come. I have regulars who’ve been coming here for 30 years, a lot of them come in every day. It’s always been the pub that staff from all the clubs and restaurants nearby come to after work to drink beer.
- Up until about 9 pm, everyone’s drinking beer or gin and tonics. IPA’s and craft beers are quite popular—we’re pouring an Adnams Mosaic pale ale now that people like. But in the late evening, everyone goes on to shots of whiskey or rum. Top shelf stuff. Rums are quite popular now.
- I’ve been here thirty years and I’ve seen seventeen royal weddings, funerals and the like. Most recently, the coronation. We’re on Pall Mall and everything goes by here. When Diana died, it was absolute madness. I felt like this pub was the center of the universe.
- The coronation was chaos. We sold a lot of Pimm’s and lemonade that Saturday; it’s very traditional garden-party English, you know.
- Wednesday and Thursday nights are packed, body to body at the bar, even upstairs and outside the door. Sometimes the passageway gets so full of people you physically can’t get into the pub.
- We get a lot of young people walking in and they see this old pub, and I know as soon as they walk in if it’s not going to be for them. It’s an old pub and it’s meant to be, you know? If you’re into this type of pub, well then, it’s a gem.
Wild Honey St. James
Michelin-starred Modern European restaurant with an unconventional menu and posh regulars wildhoneystjames.co.uk
- St. James’s is best known for its private members clubs. It’s a lot of leisure class, society people, but Buckingham Palace is right here and we’re close to the theaters of the West End and Piccadilly Circus. Everything in the area screams Britain.
- Wild Honey is a little different, though. It’s a Michelin-starred restaurant, but we’re known for our focus on ingredients that aren’t typically “noble.” You don’t come here to eat lobster or caviar, you come for our Tamworth pig’s head or lamb breast. That’s how we see our drinks menu as well. We don’t have pages and pages of grand-cru classé Bordeaux or all the grand cru of Burgundy here. We love to find the hidden gems.
- Right now, as the weather is getting warmer, lighter, fresher styles of wine are quite popular. I’m a big fan of Chenin Blanc and our Vouvray has fantastic acidity. It’s the perfect wine to start with, but it also goes with any seafood. Our white Rioja which is made by a natural wine producer, is a bit unusual but a very expressive, aromatic wine that’s a big palate pleaser.
- The cost of wine is definitely higher now. People are still spending quite a bit on wine but they’re looking for a good value. I like to recommend wines like Conti di san Bonifacio, which is basically a Super Tuscan second-wine, a base of Sangiovese with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Syrah. It’s perfect for someone who loves Bordeaux but wants to spend a bit less.
- Rabbit is one of our signature recipes. It’s a head-to-tail dish with the saddle wrapped in Parma ham and stuffed with offal. All the trimmings are used to make a cottage pie that’s served on the side. On the lighter side, I often suggest a Saumur Champigny [a Cabernet Franc from the Loire] or Fer Servadou to drink with it. Not a lot of guests order grapes like Fer Servadou or Negrette from the southwest of France, but I really love them. They can be quite like Syrah but a bit more floral. They go really well with gamey foods. I’d love to see more guests enjoy them.
- Something that really blows people’s minds is our Macvin du Jura, a vin de liqueur made by adding grape spirit to freshly harvested or partially fermented Chardonnay. It’s aged in open barrels so there’s a lot of complexity—almost like a sherry but with nice acidity and residual sugar. I love to serve it with our custard tart or wild honey ice cream.
Chutney Mary in Saint James’s
Fine Indian dining in a gorgeous space chutneymary.com
- This entire corner of Saint James’s was dead when we brought Chutney Mary here from Chelsea in 2015. This used to be an old, stuffy restaurant for people who were 70-plus, very suited and booted. We wanted to create someplace atmospheric with lovely music and Indian-inspired cocktails. There wasn’t anything like it here then. We’ve really livened up this whole end of Saint James’s.
- We’re right next to the most established English shopping district, Jermyn Street—home to the world’s most prestigious shoemakers, shirt makers and hat makers. It brings people of a certain gentry to us. It’s a business district, but not very business-like as it is in Canary Wharf. There’s much more of a village feel here. We’re also very close to Westminster so a lot of politicians, prime ministers and cabinet members come here frequently.
- We don’t just serve Indian food, per se. Indian food is made up of at least 10-12 very different, very specific regional styles of food. At Chutney Mary, our chefs come from five or six of these regions, and they bring their own regional dishes, the kind of foods they would make in their own regions for a grand wedding.
- Our cocktail program has been hugely successful. Our martini is made from a saffron gin infused with orange blossom and cardamom. We also have an Old Fashioned made with rum-infused with clove, cinnamon and cardamom.
- It’s taken a long time for people to accept drinking wine with Indian food. In the early days, most of our guests just drank something thirst-quenching like a lager or a Pinot Grigio. We served wines like Madeira or Sherry because they have a bit of sweetness and an ability to stand up to Indian food. The biggest challenge is helping our customers feel confident that wines actually work well with our food.
- Riesling is a perfect combination with our food. Or Grüner Veltliner works well with our seafood dishes that have been marinated in spices like cardamom, cinnamon and clove. But we also have wines that are a bit esoteric—unfamiliar grape varieties like a Greek Assyrtiko or Etna Bianco from Sicily – they require much more of a narrative to assure our customers that they actually work well with our food.
- Wines like Bordeaux with bold tannins have a harshness on the palate that can be challenging with Indian flavors. We still list a lot of these wines because there’s a strong demand for them, but we’ve found that unoaked wines with fresh fruit flavors often work best.
- There’s been a surge of English wines in the last five to six years. I was skeptical at first, but they’ve been very successful here, often beating many of our European wines in sales.