Brasserie St. Jacques – 33 St James Street, London. SW1A 1HD www.brasseriestjacques.co.uk
Of the whippet thin maitre d’ at a west London brasserie who offered to build a bespoke menu then proceeded to serenade his guests with little else but canapés, my fuller figured friend asserted, ‘I told you so – just look at him!’ His point was, after discussion of decor, famous or better, infamous absentee chef and wax lyricism of wines, it’s worth remembering that some people also venture to venues to enjoy eating.
Alsatian, Richard Weiss realises this. Champion sabreur, at table philosopher and Depardieu look alike, Weiss is the front man of Brasserie St. Jacques, the jolliest incarnation of what was the original ‘Petrus’ many arguments ago. Reassuringly larger than life (the floor springs under his step), not only is he likely to recommend plentiful gutsy dishes for your pleasure, but actually cook a good number of them too. That’s not to say that chef and co business partner (or ‘fellow musketeer’), Laurence Glayzer needs seek another position – his homely garlic and parsley snails with appropriately curled brioche are inspired by the kitchen of Bernard Loiseau. The bone marrow salad is also famed, although on this occasion, I deliberately resisted it in favour of rightly thick, soothing white crab and cucumber gazpacho.
As compelling a spectacle as master martini mixologist, Alessandro Palazzi at Dukes Hotel across the road, Weiss’ handiwork at the table proved the main attraction. Apparently more than half the guests order his steak tartare, and despite the temporary loss of his number two to hammer toe, Weiss clearly loves preparing it when not sending flames to the ceiling from a rudimentary but potent mobile camping stove.
Asking my companion whether she required a big flame with her well hung Scotch sirloin with green peppercorn sauce, Weiss eagerly asserted that ‘size matters’ before nearly singing his floppy fringe. Fortunately a wind farm of furiously oscillating fans distracted the smoke alarms.
Built from skirt ‘for flavour’ rather than fillet, my steak tartare with crisp but I have to admit, over enthusiastically seasoned chips was blended with rich mayonnaise. This was embellished with deeply salted anchovies, pert cornichons, aromatic cognac, savoury pepper from Espelette which smelt of bacon, and umami laden Worcestershire sauce – ‘for the entente’. On par with my erstwhile finest tartare savoured in an inebriated moment at Hush’s ‘Silver Room’, Weiss announced, ‘now I’ll have to kill you because you know the recipe’ as it grandly landed in front of me.
When we sweetly entered the third act of Weiss’ show, I was ready to believe that he really was a wannabe fireman rather than reformed culinary henchman of Marco Pierre White. Going against my plea for a light, cool pudding, with a Frenchman’s casual aplomb Weiss doused and flambéed two crepes in fresh caramel and big-hearted slugs of cognac, adding pith as a notion to balance. The result dripped down my throat like a warm, sugary lozenge. From a largely organic list, I drank a delicate Jurancon crafted by an 82 year-old lady. Weiss explained his preference for organic and biodynamic bottles with the memorable line: ‘we’ve got to go that way – when I look up at the sky, the moon doesn’t look sexy…’
Larger than life, Weiss had delivered a generous, authored meal, the portions in proportion to an appetite for pleasure.