The space: Adjoined to another new restaurant, Anzu, Veneta is one half of the ground floor space of an anonymous-looking office building. That's the bad part - inside, the Salt Yard team have worked hard to alleviate the bland exterior with elegant classical furnishings in graceful hues of mustard yellow, sea blue and turquoise. The look is not dissimilar to Dickie Fitz, the Fitzrovia restaurant, but there's better tables here and the plucky use of space allows for a mezzanine. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows will be more elegant and less corporate come summertime, when they fall open and give the restaurant another third of space.
Thanks to delightfully cheery and knowledgeable staff, the building's imperfections shouldn't cost Veneta its life.
Food and drink: We went in for breakfast, a meal that isn't such an occasion in Venice as it is in London - but Salt Yard have upturned tradition to make great efforts for early risers. In Venice there is no easy way to travel - even today - so what's available on the market boats that slowly press their way down the canals at dawn is what makes the plate. That's why the simplest is best - a granola replete with ripe berries and generous bundles of oats, for instance.
In that vein, the polenta - a peasant dish - was positively earth shatteringly good. The cornmeal dish has been rigorously shifted into 21st Century gear. Like a porridge, the rich, fine-ground corn is sweet and light, but expansive, silky and textured on the tongue. The odd fragrant bite of cinnamon or raison adds texture. With fresh cream, and a surely compulsory shot of Muscavado to cut right through, you'll taste nothing better for breakfast.
Beware - the cooked courses are heavy enough to make having a cold starter first ambitious. The Venetian breakfast is good, with deconstructed black pudding and a touch of Italy: thick-cut pancetta.
But the breakfast dish not to miss is the poached eggs, smoked eel and sourdough with hollandaise. Although altogether it's a slightly over salted experience, the dish is a brilliant excuse to try eel, which is a welcome combination of dense and meaty like tofu, but with a refined melt-in-the-mouthness. A thrilling and upscale way to do eggs benedict with more punch.
Would we return? This is a far bigger statement than Anzu next door, though we're still not fully sold on St James's Market as a destination. That's not the chef's fault though, and these decently portioned reinventions of Italian classics are inventive and surprising.
|What||Veneta restaurant review, St James|
|Where||Veneta, St James Market, Regent Street , London , SW1Y 4AH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
01 Oct 16 – 30 Nov 19, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to find out more|