Restaurant Review: St James, Bushey

Richard Cawthorne takes up a reader's recommendation and enjoys dinner at St James in Bushey

MIRROR, mirror, on the wall ... St James in Bushey is probably not the fairest restaurant of them all, but it's not half bad. The mirror in question takes up most of the back of the dining area, giving the room a large and airy feel set off by bare brick walls, light wood furniture and crisp, clean table settings. You feel relaxed as soon as you walk in.

St James was suggested for review by a reader, who said it was 'by far the best restaurant in the Watford area'. By remarkable coincidence, the place describes itself in almost exactly those terms on its website, though the effect is spoiled later on by silly spelling mistakes, 'consistantly' and 'occassional' being two such examples. That always begs the question whether similar lapses apply to the product.

Without checking every restaurant in the Watford area, which we at Hertfordshire Life are happy to do but which is going to take some time, it's difficult to test the reader's opinion. Sufficient to say St James is enjoying something of a local reputation and the breezy confidence of the highly-efficient and friendly staff shows they know they're on to something.

Like many similar places, the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights has two sittings, one from 7pm and the second from 9pm, and booking is advisable. Arriving four-strong for first sitting on a Friday, we find an almost-empty room which fills rapidly over the next half hour. A basket of bread is served almost as soon as we settle ourselves, followed swiftly by free appetisers in the form of smoked trout croquettes, a smaller version of one of the featured starters, and very tasty too. The service is like clockwork, and while we suspect it might falter as things get busier, it doesn't.

Prices are trendily high, with starters hovering around the �6 mark, mains averaging �17 and desserts at �6.95. The theme is modern English with what is described as the occasional hint of France and Italy. There is lamb, pork, beef, calves' liver, halibut, monkfish, seabass and sole. And there is a bargain to be had in the form of a two-course menu which changes daily and costs �13.95 for lunch and �15.95 for dinner, with a choice of three or four starters and the same number of mains.

It's a way of trying things out without breaking the bank and, though the mains look unimaginative, we go for that option and select to start lamb satay with rocket, chicory and ginger, and fried haloumi with antipasto salad and pesto, both of which receive high marks. The follow-ups are not so successful, scoring 50-50.

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Best are the Lincolnshire sausages with swede and carrot mash, roast parsnips and gravy, picked by two of our party. Roast chicken breast on a bed of cabbage and spinach sounds safe but is served with a tarragon sauce which is tasty but far too strong for the meat. The char-grilled rump steak with fat chips, mushrooms, tomato and bearnaise sauce is average and we have to request a sharper knife.

The next door table's collops of monkfish, described on the menu as pan fried with sauteed spinach and crispy Parma ham with murat sauce, looks particularly tempting after that, but costs �16.95 all by itself. In other words, you get what you pay for. The two-course menu is a great idea and if it pulls people in and they are therefore introduced to St James, possibly to return for more at a later date, then it has done its job. But push it too far down-market and you risk losing the advantage. It's a fine balance.

The test is whether I would go back. On this showing, yes I would.The total cost of dinner for four was �91.97, including a bottle of red wine at �17.95 and 12.5% service, which is added automatically. The cost for two with the same wine would have been �56.08. This is an independent review, featuring a restaurant suggested by a reader and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.


St James30 High StreetBushey, WD23 3HL020 8950 2480

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