Source: James McDonald via Gemma Bell

Fortnum & Mason’s New Restaurant: Snails, Style and Inexpensive Wines

All-day brasserie 45 Jermyn St. succeeds a decades-old star in a prime central location. It is also one of the best new London restaurants of the year.

Some new restaurants scream for attention, throwing celebrity parties and gaining publicity more for their diners than their dinners.

And then there is 45 Jermyn St., which opened quietly in October on the site of The Fountain, which survived for 60 years at the back of Fortnum & Mason. This new brasserie is clubby and, while it is beautiful, it is understated. The focus is on the food and wine, and the culture is of hospitality, not bling.

It already feels like a classic, within weeks of opening. I like it so much, I keep going back, if only for a drink. Louis Roederer Brut Champagne is £12 ($18) a glass and three bottles (including Veuve Fourny & Fils Blanc de Blanc) are priced below £50. But it is the food that, rightly, is the star.

The caviar trolley.
The caviar trolley.
Source: Gemma Bell

The menu is accessible and need not be too expensive if you are on a budget. If you are, I would recommend against the caviar trolley, served tableside with scrambled eggs and baked new potatoes. I prefer to start with the oysters while deciding on a starter, which is quite difficult as there are three I want every time.

Snails with gorgonzola and garlic butter.
Snails with gorgonzola and garlic butter.
Source: Gemma Bell

First up is Welsh rarebit (£9.50), which has been on the menu at Fortnum since 1926. It gives you a smack of mustard heat burning behind the sharpness of the cheese. And then there are the snails, served in shells filled with gorgonzola and garlic butter (£9). These leave a trail of fatty flavors as they slip down. But the star is a dish of grilled bones with Parmesan and parsley salt. If the marrow were any richer, it could run for president.

Not everything on the menu is cheesy, of course. There's a deeply flavoured game consommé with pearl barley, while a half Dorset blue lobster with Russian salad, which weighs in at £19.25.

The starters are more interesting than the mains, which include a flavorful Glenarm Estate rib steak with Café de Paris butter (£33.50) and more modestly priced options such as calves' liver with bubble & squeak (£16.25). Chef Lee Streeton does the business: when it comes to brasserie fare, familiarity breeds content and comfort engenders joy. A little experimentation is fine but too much is too much.

It's with the desserts that the pleasure principle lets rip, particularly with the Floats, which reference the restaurant's past.  (The Fountain was home to the first soda fountain in the U.K.) Take one single option: Strawberry, Neroli & Orange Blossom Syrup, Cognac, Soda, Peanut Butter Ice Cream (£12.50) . Who knew such disparate elements would get along so well? This is not one big hit of sugar. The sweetness is under control and there are layers of flavor.

Grilled bones with toasted sour dough and parsley salt.
Grilled bones with toasted sour dough and parsley salt.
Source: Gemma Bell

I could happily spend an afternoon devouring the Mexicana coupe (tangerine ice cream with pineapple) or the Victoria (fruits soaked in Champagne with strawberry & pistachio ice cream).

But I wouldn't want to ignore the wine list. It is both adventurous (the first region listed is Herefordshire before Burgundy) and inexpensive (many bottles are priced much lower than you would pay elsewhere). About 20 wines are available by the glass and the carafe. Or you might like to jump straight to a bargain Pinot Noir (Domaine Drouhin, Dundee Hills, Oregon 2013) at £40.

45 Jermyn St. isn't pushing any boundaries. It's a bit like The Ivy and there are elements of Le Caprice. It is open all day, so it's a possible alternative to the Wolseley for breakfast. It is not over-ambitious. But what it does it does well. It's one of the best new London restaurants of 2015.

45 Jermyn St., St. James's, London, SW1 6DN; +44-20-7205-4545.

Richard Vines is chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines

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