We Londoners rarely get the opportunity to peer behind the doors of the city’s more exclusive hotels. While we might see the inside of a conference room at a Hilton or Radisson from time to time, the 5-star establishments simply aren’t our radar. After all, we have our small flats and cosy terraced houses to retire to after a night out at the theatre or down at the pub.
So, when an invitation to take lunch at one of London’s most historic and prestigious hotels arrived in my inbox I could hardly refuse. My curiosity piqued, earlier this week I headed over to Mayfair to investigate Dukes St. James London.
Tucked away on a little cobbled courtyard just around the corner from St James Palace, Dukes has been accommodating guests for over a century. An 80-room establishment, it has recently been awarded five red AA stars (only given to the absolute best of the best hotels) and at this year’s World Travel Awards was declared to be ‘Europe’s Boutique Hotel Of The Year’.
Our afternoon at Dukes started in the PJ Lounge, the hotel’s champagne bar. Recently decorated in shades of mint and pink, Managing Director Debrah Dhugga did admit to the assembled group of writers and journalists that this room was ‘quite girly‘!
After a glass of champagne it was down the corridor to THIRTY SIX, the hotel’s restaurant, to sample some of the dishes on their autumn menu. This was quite an exciting prospect as head chef Nigel Mendham (latterly of the Michelin-starred Samling Hotel in the Lake District) was awarded three Rosettes at the AA Hospitality Awards earlier in the year for ‘outstanding service and food‘. What we were served certainly lived up to my expectations and matched Nigel’s reputation – our meal comprised of:
- Heritage beetroot – a goat’s cheese flan with beetroot and topped with a frothy celery sorbet. Served on Welsh slate, this arrangement of ingredients had far more flavours than seemed feasible on one plate
- Roast loin of venison with a celeriac fondant, braised shin and blackberries – for the first few moments after this was presented I felt uncomfortable about disturbing the beautiful arrangement of ingredients but I’m glad that I did – this dish was a riot of textures and tastes, presented in real style
- Dark chocolate pave with popcorn, banana and salted caramel – I have to admit to not being a fan of either popcorn or banana but in this combination they really worked, with the bitterness of the chocolate being cut through by the sweet and salty accompaniments
Of course each dish was matched with a fine wine – a very fresh 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Zephyr from New Zealand to go with the first course, a fruity 2010 Saint Amour Beaujolais with the venison and a sweet and heavy Quinta de Arvamoira port from the Ramos Pinto vineyard to accompany the dessert.
It might surprise you to learn that a two-course lunch in THIRTY SIX costs just £21. This represents excellent value for money and is probably the most competitive food offer in this part of town, particularly when you take into account the very comfortable and intimate surroundings.
While most of the other guests departed after lunch, a few of us embarked on a little tour taking in the hotel’s other features, starting off in the snug and clubby Dukes bar. One of Ian Fleming’s notable haunts, it is said that one of Bond’s signature characteristics, his preference for martini ‘shaken not stirred’, was devised in this very room. Today the cocktail waiters pride themselves on offering the most personal service to be found anywhere in London – ask for one of Dukes’ signature ‘Vespa’ martinis and the waiter will pull a trolley over to wherever you are seated and assemble it right there in front of your eyes…
The other public room that we stepped inside was the Drawing Room – decorated in pale pastel shades, the alcoves in this room are where the hotel serves a classic ‘afternoon tea’. Alternatively, it’s the ideal place to sit and relax with the newspaper and a coffee. Adjoining this room is a conservatory and a courtyard garden, which after 8pm transforms into an outdoor cognac and cigar lounge for those with a taste for those things!
We also had the opportunity to see one of the guest rooms and a two-room suite. I think the well-appointed accommodations can be summed up in two words – understated elegance. That phrase could equally be applied to the whole establishment, although at the same time it felt rather homely (if home is an expensive and exquisitely decorated apartment that is).
If you’re looking for the London hotel equivalent of glitzy Dubai or Vegas then Dukes is not for you – this hotel is for visitors who want to relax in comfortable and peaceful surroundings after a strenuous day out and about in London. Classic rooms at Dukes start at £316 per night, with suites starting at £612. You can find out more about the hotel and all it has to offer on their website here, including their exclusive James Bond-themed experience timed to coincide with the release of ‘Skyfall’….
For the avoidance of doubt, the food and drinks which we sampled at Dukes were complimentary.