Letter from London - Julie's Restaurant

The Place: Julie's, 135 Portland Road , Holland Park, London

A businessman in London should not be surprised to have one of the locals recommend Julie's for lunch or dinner. After all, this is the establishment that hosted Prince Charles' stag party and that has become a very hot eating spot with the young and affluent business and professional crowds. Seeing our duty clearly before us, your intrepid correspondents ventured forth to check it out.

The Basics: Julies is nicely situated at the head of a quiet cul-de-sac of row houses in a pleasant neighborhood just off the Bayswater Road/Holland Park Avenue a few blocks west of Kensington Gardens . It serves lunch Monday-Friday from 12:30 to 2:45 , Sunday brunch ("English Traditional Lunch") from 12:30 to 3:00 , and dinner every night starting at 7:30 . Upstairs are a traditional bar and a wine bar, while the basement is divided into several intimate, variously furnished dining rooms. It's all very elegant, airy and comfortable. Parking is not an issue, since no foreigners (and few Britons) in their right minds drive in London . Call it a £12-14 cab ride from central London.

The Service: England, like much of Europe, dines late, and when we arrived at opening time, we were the only customers. By the time we left, there was not an empty seat, and reservations are definitely in order. The maitresse d' directed us downstairs, where we were promptly and ceremoniously seated. The background music was adjusted to our taste. Several members of the wait and bussing staff worked in harmony to provide timely and unobtrusive service. Presentation of the wine, refilling of water glasses (drinking water marked us as non-natives), clearing used plates, and so forth were proper and efficient. At the end, our bill came promptly and was quite correct.

The Ambience: The décor makes maximum use of limited space, with room partitions, mirrors, and lighting used to create an impression of more room than is actually there. Tables were well isolated, and private conversation was certainly possible. However, as the restaurant filled and a festive mood (it was Friday night) took hold, the noise level rose high enough to make casual chit chat somewhat onerous. Overall, Julie's is a fine choice for a social get together, but probably not ideal for a serious business meeting. A private banqueting room is available for parties of 18 to 24 guests. The restaurant is nonsmoking, at least in the larger dining rooms.

The Food: This is the motivation for coming. Fodor's categorizes Julie's as British Traditional, but the chef is clearly on a mission to prove that British cuisine is not an oxymoron. A typical menu begins with a choice of goat's chesses with nectarine and honey pepper dressing, salmon tartare with quail eggs and avocado, or venison and hare terrine as starters. Entrees include grilled organic salmon (meaning that it is farmed, but not in the crowded mass production tanks that prevent the fish from developing properly), steak and kidney pie braised in ale, baked sea bass with parsnips and ginger, rack of lamb, venison with lavender crusted potatoes, and steak au poivre. Servings and side dishes are generous. Desserts include the chef's crème brulee, chocolate truffle mousse, and various fruit and cheese combinations.

The wine list is not huge, but very carefully chosen, with mostly French vintages, but choices from Chile , Spain , Australia and Germany as well. Bottle prices are extremely reasonable by London standards, mostly in the range of £17-30. We enjoyed a superb Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva.

Summary: Julie's is a bit too boisterous to rank as CEO or President grade but is a terrific place for a delicious meal and a pleasant evening - certainly deserving an overall Vice President score. For something different, away from the usual downtown eateries, offering creative cuisine that takes full advantage of local ingredients, and

- Contributing Author: Dr. John (Michael) Borky

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