WLC recommends: Maison François, St. James’s

Douglas Blyde visits the St. James’s bastion of French excellence and speaks with wine director Daniel Illsley about how he has created a list to make wine “more accessible to a broader audience”. Taken from the 2022 Wine List Confidential guide.

Daniel Illsley (centre)

“Plump mussels loll languorously upon blistered, puffy flatbread, slathered in reduced cream sauce. And then, joy of joys, oeuf en gelée, where hard white and oozing yolk are clad in subtly bovine, glittering amber aspic,” wrote Tom Parker Bowles in You Magazine of Maison François, which occupies the site of his uncle’s former oyster bar, Green’s. Fortunately, oysters remain.

Wines at both the terracotta-coloured Maison François brasserie with soaring ceiling and the chic, subterranean Frank’s Bar á Vin with seafood counter and DJ, are brought to you by wine legend Daniel Illsley. As well as working alongside the venue’s founders from the start, being Ed Wyand (former maitre d’ at Scott’s), François O’Neill (whose father founded Brasserie St. Quentin) and head chef Matthew Ryle, Illsley oversees his own micro empire of wine shops, Theatre of Wine, with outlets in East Greenwich, Leytonstone and Tufnell Park.

A late starter in wine, having worked in film, TV and theatre, the Cornish- born Illsley has created a thoroughly considered selection of bottles. “While some people may be more focused on luxury or mainstream brands, we are making St. James’s more accessible to a broader audience for wine, which is very liberating,” he says.

In addition to the famous oeuf en gelée, dishes by Ryle include côte de veau, beurre noisette and sauge et câpre, with which Illsey recommends Vignoble Guillaume’s Franche-Comté Pinot Noir, while Côtes du Rhône Villages L’Esprit Devin by Domaine Galévan is a fine match with côte de porc with compote de pommes rôties.

Best for:

  • Attractive list with useful explanations
  • Depthful cellar driven by a far-reaching love of France
  • Pudding trolley by pastry chef Jeremy Prakhin

Score: 92 Price: 90 Size: 93 Range: 91 Originality: 93 Experience: 93

To purchase a copy of the 2022 Wine List Confidential guide, click here.

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