The other night, a couple of my friends and I relived a childhood classic – the Jungle Book – over the dreamiest private dining experience at St James Court…
The scene was set al-fresco, on a terrace looking out onto the fairytale-like fountain at the centre of the hotel’s Shakespearean courtyard – named so, as the surrounding red brickwork portrays sylvan scenes from Shakespeare’s plays!
Situated between Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament – the courtyard is something of a hidden gem in London, where time seems to come to a magical standstill…
It’s fittingly the setting for the Taj hotel’s ‘English Classics, Reinvented’ literary series, which pays a contemporary tribute to some of our most timeless tales, with limited edition cover-designs commissioned especially for these books!
The second in the series, The Jungle Book is celebrated in partnership with the Born Free Foundation, championing animal welfare and the charity’s tiger conservation work in India. The book – and indeed, the invincible spirit of the tiger – are the inspiration behind this unique dining experience recently launched by the hotel.
We had the al fresco terrace all to ourselves and were incredibly well looked after, just as I’ve come to expect from any and every Taj hotel I visit. The attentive, yet discreet and unobtrusive service set us up for a luxuriously languid evening after a long day’s work…
We started with the bare necessities – papad, pickles and a moreish raita dip, that we simply couldn’t get enough of throughout our dinner!
The first course – ‘Rama’s plate’ – featured a lively contrast of textures. Crisp and colourful samosa-chaat, succulent chunks of stir-fried chicken (I tucked into a fiery paneer-based alternative instead) and a radiantly creamy carrot and coconut shot…
Next came the mains to share – these formed a veritable feast, full of big and bold flavours oozing a richly-comforting quality! We all had our own favourites.
Luke was partial to Shere Khan’s lamb rogan josh, which arrived in a decadent pool of gravy that complimented (rather than overwhelmed) the tender meatiness of the lamb. Meanwhile, I was one happy vegetarian with the vibrant preparation of Rama’s palak paneer, liberally piling seconds and thirds onto the incredibly hearty vegetable biryani.
And if there were ever an appropriate time to use the word zingy, Megs would use it to describe the minty sauce paired with the ‘machli tawa fry’, which did much to enliven the golden-battered fish!
That wasn’t all though, as we also tucked into jeera-aloo (spiced potatoes) and a beautifully seasoned tadka daal, with heaps of versatile Indian breads to help us mop up the rich sauces.
The Bandar Log dessert platter made for an ethereally beautiful finish to our dinner. It involved a tantalisingly lush mango kulfi, fresh fruits and a gulab-jamun cheesecake, surrounded by a scattering of popping candy for good measure!
I have to confess that sometimes, gulab jamuns can be almost too sickly-sweet for me (shocking I know, given my predilection for all things sugary)… so this creative combination was quite perfect, as the moist sweetness of the gulab jamun was offset by the densely creamy cheesecake cocooning it.
From the thoughtful presentation and service to the sentimental value of the classic dishes we unabashedly devoured, the entire evening really felt like something straight out of a story book… So yes, the Jungle Book dinner was truly every bit the enchanting experience that it had promised to be.
St James Court, a Taj Hotel, 54 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AF
The celebratory edition of The Jungle Book has been launched by the Taj in collaboration with the Born Free Foundation to help raise awareness of the threatened species; proceeds from the sale of the books and menu will go towards the Born Free Foundation’s tiger conservation work in India.
As part of the campaign, Taj Safaris are also offering bespoke wildlife luxury safaris in India, guided by a Born Free wildlife expert.
Further information on the Jungle Book Dining Experience can be found on their website, here.
We were guests of St James Court, a Taj hotel. As always – all opinions are mine and mine alone.