Dukes Hotel flies the flag at its revamped restaurant GBR
What’s new? Dukes Hotel in St James’s, birthplace of the ‘shaken not stirred’ Martini, has a new all-day British restaurant.
Behind the scenes: Chef Nigel Mendham might almost have had his career mapped out by Richard Curtis’s location scout. The Randolph, South Lodge in Sussex, The Lygon Arms and The Samling in Windermere (where he won a Michelin star)… all ‘crusts-off’ addresses to which one might take a great aunt.
Chef Nigel Mendham
The concept: The vexing question of how to transform a forgotten – or simply forgettable – restaurant into a destination one is one that concerns nearly every luxury hotel in London to a greater or lesser degree. Just this year, we’ve seen The Stafford bring in a Great British Menu chef for its Great British restaurant, the Game Bird, and Flemings in Mayfair do likewise with Ormer.
Dukes hasn’t got in a «name», but it has gone out on a limb and christened its new joint GBR – «Great British Restaurant». This smart-casual, all-day Brit-ish brasserie replaces Nigel Mendham at Thirty Six, the no longer «with it» swirly-carpeted fine-dining concept with which Dukes answered that vexing question in 2011. GBR Dubai – spot the oxymoron – launched in April.
The dining room
What’s cooking? The menu is a tour of England’s cherished institutions: its pubs, country house hotels, domestic kitchens, tearooms and town-centre wine bars.
To begin, a petite quenelle of white Norfolk crab with lacy rye toasts, a swirl of intense brown crab mayonnaise, dabs of apple gel and translucent apple discs no larger than a ha’penny. Delicate, diminutive, but in all other respects very English, it’s well inside the chef’s comfort zone. Yet on the same menu, great clods of deep-fried pulled «pork crunch» are a dalliance with dude food that seems beneath him.
Free range chicken pie
The light touch returns with mains: Isle of Gigha halibut cooked to a perfect golden brown in saffron-scented chowder; and saddle of lamb with fresh parsley purée, a British racing green stand-in for wild garlic, that left the Mediterranean accompaniments (dun-coloured aubergine purée and roasted cherry tomatoes) looking like uninvited guests at a wedding.
Jet-lagged hotel guests and time-poor hedge-funders can choose simpler plates: fish and chips, coronation chicken, or the GBR Burger. In keeping with national tradition, service offers comedy moments worthy of a «Manuel».
Isle of Gingha Halibut
Signature dishes: Jam Roly Poly. It’s madness to have steamed suet pud on the menu in July. Even worse to order it. Nevertheless, I can’t deny this one’s a good one (probably mum’s recipe or something). Fresh berries, raspberry powder and dots of raspberry gel are ‘summer-ready’ accessories it could forgo. Save for a cold snap.
The signature Jam Roly Poly
Best for: Out of town relatives. Prices are gentle for this part of town.
GBR London, 35 St James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NY, 020 7491 4840, gbrrestaurantslondon.com