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Test Driving The Pem - Sally Abé's food, showcased in St James

roomThe new-look dining room that houses The Pem.It's broken up quite a bit, so should be ideal if you want a bit of space and privacy for your government "meeting".

What can you tell us about The Pem?

It's the final piece of the puzzle of the revamp of the food and drink at the Conrad St James hotel. That's been overseen by Sally Abé, previously known for running the kitchen at the Michelin-starred Harwood Arms. Here she's in charge of the food at the Blue Boar pub, The Hedgerow cocktail bar and this, The Pem - the hotel's main restaurant. 

At The Pem, she's joined by head chef Laetizia Keating (also from The Harwood Arms) and Emma Underwood as GM (who has come from Darby's). 

Where is it?

You'll find it inside the Conrad St James, the big hotel that's directly opposite the St James's Park tube station. The hotel has had quite the revamp and nowhere is this more visible than with the changes to the main bar and the restaurant. 

Where should we meet for a drink first?

The immediate area isn't blessed with great bars, so we'd say your best bet is to come straight here. Their new bar is called The Hedgerow and apparently it's the first time they've had a proper cocktail bar in the hotel.

Based on what we tried, this is a major step forward (see below) and even if you're not coming in for dinner, this could well be serving the best cocktails in the area. It's also worth noting that there's a snacks menu at the bar that's also overseen by Sally Abé.

roomTwo of the cocktails from The Hedgerow's menu (also available in The Pem). These are the Bramble Bee (left, Salcombe gin, lacto fermented blackberry, honey, lemon - £20) and the Cempasuchil (mezcal, hibiscus, green chartreuse, dr curacao, maraschino, lime - £16). Definitely at the pricier end as cocktails go - but the quality matches the price.

What's the room like?

If you've ever visited the hotel before, as you can see from above there's been quite a makeover . The same basic structure is there, but much has gone into making the decor considerably fancier, with strong reds throughout as well as a black and white flooring that is quite striking when you enter the restaurant. Head towards the back of the dining room and you'll find two huge circular banquettes - if you can, either of these are the tables to grab. 

roomYes, you can get a little dwarfed in this huge booth - but it's definitely the table to book. 

So what about the food?

If you're at The Pem, there's a very good chance that you've come here for Sally Abé's food and, without skipping to the end too fast, she makes the visit worthwhile. The menu here is described as being "built on the foundations of British cuisine". There's definitely a fine-dining approach, with high prices to match, but portions are also fairly generous. There are many hints towards Sally Abé's time at The Harwood Arms, not least with a good emphasis on game dishes.

It's a standard three-course menu affair, with a few extras thrown in too and a high quality was in evidence throughout on our visit . Here's a taste of what's on offer:

roomFirst up - the canapes. These were teeny prawn cocktail tartlets.

roomNext - we love a good bread course. This comes with particularly wonderful whipped butter and wild garlic oil.

roomPoached Native Lobster - Shellfish cream, heritage tomato, sweet olive (£28) hitting all the notes of the end of summer.

roomWood Pigeon Baba - Grilled plum, smoked bone marrow, wood sorrel (£23) - referencing Sally Abé's love of game dishes, this new addition to the menu is rested on a savoury baba (you can just about see it underneath in the photo). 

roomRoast John Dory - Brassicas, bobby beans, Exmoor caviar, sauce Divine (£42) - and there's extra sauce on the side, of course. 

roomFallow Deer - Roast red cabbage, pickled blackberries, black figs (£42) - a pitch perfect early autumnal larder dish. 

roomBlack Figs - Vanilla cream, fig leaf shortbread, coconut sorbet (£14). More figs, this time in dessert form.

roomBlack Forest Gateau - Chocolate curls, English cherry, ripple ice cream (£14) - one of the signature desserts. That ripple ice cream is wonderful. 

roomThe whole thing finishes off with espresso martini chocolates - much better than a coffee.

What about drinks?

Outside of the aforementioned cocktail list, there's an extensive wine list that's balanced between independent growers and iconic houses. We'd recommend being led by their sommelier James Shaw who picked the perfect wine for our own meal. Entry-level prices are at £37 a bottle and there are a few to choose from at that level - but being St James - the list also hits some great heights such as £845 for a Cecile Tremblay Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru, Bourgogne, France 2017. Maybe one for ministerial meetings only.

Overall thoughts

The Pem is definitely on the high side of fine dining, as you can see from some of the prices. But there's also incredible skill on show here - with every dish we tried on the night clearly among some of the best we've had recently. Pair this with a front of house that's much more open, friendly and welcoming than you might often find in a fine dining restaurant, this really is a very promising addition to St James. 

Hot Dinners ate as guests of The Pem. Prices are correct at the time of writing.  

 

More about The Pem

Where is it? Conrad London St. James, 22-28 Broadway, Westminster, London SW1H 0BH

Find out moreVisit their website or follow them on Instagram @thepemrestaurant.

 

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