Restaurant Review: Le Caprice, Arlington St in London
Few places evoke an image of glamour and upmarket elegance as Le Caprice in St. James’s. Located in a quiet street behind The Ritz Hotel, just off Piccadilly, it was opened back in 1947 by the former Maître d’ of another iconic restaurant, The Ivy. It was in the 80’s, though, that Le Caprice became THE place to be seen, thanks to the patronage of their most loyal, and also their most famous, customer — Princess Diana — who declared it her favourite dining room in the whole of London. In that heady decade of shoulder pads and paparazzi, it was rare to open the society pages of a newspaper or glossy magazine and not see a photo of the latest pop sensation or a glamorous film star quaffing champagne in Le Cap’s subtly stylish Art Deco interior.
These days, you don’t need to fight your way through a scrum of popping flash-bulbs to get in but you certainly do need to book in advance — this is still an extremely popular and fashionable place to dine. On the Sunday night that I visited (usually a quiet time for most restaurants in the capital), nearly every table was taken. Under the directorship of Jesus Adorno, the suave South American who has charmed the restaurant’s customers for over thirty-five years, Sunday evenings are currently served with a side of smooth classic jazz from an accomplished trio who play music from the likes of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz.
As my partner and I took our seats, Princess Diana’s old corner table (the most sought after in the house, naturally) was being vacated by a couple from New Zealand who declared, upon my asking how their meal was, that they had “just eaten the best fish we’ve ever had anywhere in the world”. With high praise like that, it had to be seafood for starters and our orders of chargrilled octopus and a dressed Dorset crab gave us no reason to disagree with our Antipodean neighbours’ comment. The octopus, in particular, was superbly tender with absolutely none of the rubberiness that can sometimes occur when this dish is overcooked.
Our main courses were served with a delicious bottle of what was very modestly called “Good Ordinary Claret” from local wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd. This had us contemplating that one of the advantages of being situated in this part of town and having the royal family around the corner is that “local produce” tends to be of the utmost quality, given the high standards that the ‘neighbours’ demand and are used to getting. I’d hazard that the veal and suckling pig we ordered weren’t bred anywhere within spitting distance of Piccadilly Circus but they certainly ticked the “highest quality” box without any doubt. The slow roasted suckling pig melted in the mouth and was perfectly complemented by the glazed figs and cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) that accompanied it. Shavings of black truffle adorned my partner’s plate of roasted rump of veal as well as violet artichoke and side dishes of creamed spinach and buttered Anya potato which we shared between us.
As we savoured our desserts — mine a satisfying fig and almond tart, hers a dreamily light champagne & lemon one — we admired the monochrome portraits by David Bailey that adorn the walls. The decor at Le Caprice is worth a special mention because it reflects the values of the food here. From the long sweeping cocktail bar counter (at which you can choose to dine instead of at a regular table, as some “locals” appeared to do) to the Jan Kaplicky-designed champagne buckets in the shape of fish, there is the subtle aesthetic of a grand cruise ship from the 1920s about the place that effects an air of self-assured and unfussy elegance.
We left feeling replete with good food in a way that is sometimes rare at restaurants of this level. At Le Caprice the dishes come artfully served in the way of many Michelin-starred venues, but in portions that are actually large enough to satisfy a healthy appetite. It’s also not as expensive as one might think, given just how famous and highly regarded this establishment is: pre- and post-theatre fixed-price menus are available here that compare well with the cost of some casual dining chains. Trends may come and go and not everything that was popular in the 80’s has stood the test of time, but Le Caprice proves the old adage that “quality and style are never out of fashion”.
Address: 20 Arlington Street, St. James’s, London SW1A 1RJ
Phone: 020 7629 2239
Main image courtesy of Karolina Krasuska