Glass banishes the winter blues by dining out

IT’S cold out there and, despite the shortest day being back on December 21, still getting dark ridiculously early. Spring is not around the corner and London’s glamour is in danger of being shadowed a darker hues. The antidote is stiff resolve, steely optimism and restaurants capable of banishing the melancholy months of winter.

St George's Hanover SquareRelaxed comfort and good food at Wild Honey opposite St George’s Hanover-Square

The Dickensian frontage of Wild Honey, sedately situated opposite St George’s Hanover Square, suggests the kind of relaxed comfort being sought and the restaurant’s easy-on-the-eye interior is immediately reassuring: a foxed mirror, low lighting and the sense that this is a place where you can enjoy an unhurried conversation at your table.

The position of the bar has been moved but little else has changed since Wild Honey opened its doors a decade ago; the wood panelling is under a preservation order so no messing with the essentials is allowed. The service is gentlemanly, suiting the clubbish tone of unfussy contentment, while the metal spiral staircase and black-and-white photographs of an older London sharing space with modern art serve as a cheering reminder that time passes but life goes on.

Wild Honey’s menu changes to suit what is available but expect British-style dishes from the kitchen of the chef/owner ­­– the burrata is made in West London, the venison hails from Dartmoor and wild turbot brought up from Cornwall – all prepared with aplomb and served with leisurely grace.

The ConnaughtAll is light and grace at Jean Georges at The-Connaught

For a more defiant stand against winter doldrums, slapping them down with extravagant effrontery, Jean-Georges at The Connaught cannot fail to deliver, especially if seated in its crescent-shaped, glass-ceilinged conservatory wing.

The blue-toned lighting system, designed like satellite dishes or inverted pond lilies is quite spectacular and the London views, with plane trees silhouetted against the night sky, adds to the theatrical scene. Semi-classical pillars separate this part of the restaurant from an alcove with a white plastered ceiling and a larger area with soft but low armchairs.

Wherever you sit, expect a sophisticated experience. It could begin with a glass of Ligurian wine poured with poise from an imperial, followed by one of the seductive starters conceived by famed superchef Jean-Georges Vongeichten: flawless, radish-topped tuna tartare, black truffle with scallop, a shrimp salad with a champagne vinegar dressing. It’s all very luxurious but you’ll also find pizza, salty chips and toast (albeit with caviar) on the highly crafted menu. Jean-Georges at The Connaught is a fabulous place to lift the spirits and stretch credit cards – only a misanthrope could fail to swoon at the setting and taste buds will be dead if the food doesn’t invigorate them.

M Restaurant Victoria StreetA copper ceiling shines down on a dining amphitheatre in M Restaurant Victoria Street

Your senses will also be enlivened by M Restaurant Victoria Street and a preliminary visit to the M Wine Bar situated above it. The fun part at the bar begins with the purchase of a card that operates the delivery of 40 wines by the glass, in a quantity of your choosing, from an electronic machine (check out the complimentary tasting slots between 5-7pm on Fridays). Don’t be misled by the gadgetry into thinking these are inferior wines and the variety will suit different budgets.

The restaurant is in the basement, divided into Raw and Grill, and with lots of seats to fill expect gregarious groups as well as couples. Grill occupies a huge amphitheatre and is a colourful affair with a copper ceiling and reversing lights which are curiously attractive.

Victoria St’s M Restaurant is all about having a good time, expelling seasonal lassitude with sensual starters like a tuna sashimi with vodka and watermelon or buttermilk fried chicken with pickles and a hot sauce. A special award should go to a decadent dessert cocktail:  a chocolate cup with a cream liquor that is best not shared because you will want it all to yourself.

Enoteca Turi Authentic-and-exquisite-Italian-food-at-Enoteca-TuriAuthentic and exquisite Italian-food at Enoteca Turi

The far less boisterous Enoteca Turi, now near Sloane Square having moved house after a 25-year stint in Putney, is Italian to its core and a meal here should bring sunny, Mediterranean memories to mind. The restaurant has a wine list that shames far larger establishments and the kitchen’s use of Italian winter vegetables provides another wow factor. We’re talking seasonal varieties that are at their best for only three months of the year: cardi (artichoke thistle) cavolo nero (a brassica from Tuscany), puntarelle (asparagus chicory) and ­– a garlicky sub-species of the turnip with a mild mustard aftertaste – cime di rape.

With so many London restaurants being the offspring of chains and investment companies, Enoteca Turi (like Wild Honey in this respect) distinguishes itself by its personal approach to the business of making customers feel good about their evening out. This plays no small part in making it a neighbourhood restaurant where customers return for the personal service, the breadth of its Italian wine list and the authenticity of the cuisine.

Daylight hours are still short but, like a poet, call darkness the gloaming and it already feels better when you step into the night to banish winter blues.

by Sean Sheehan