For some reason, hotel bars and restaurants are seemingly overlooked in this day an age of pop-ups and street food markets. Lately though, we have been discovering why there is certainly still room for the glamour and ceremony of these grand institutions that have such a rich and romantic heritage.
We were invited to sample the delights of DUKES Hotel, located at 35 Saint James’ Place, this magnificent building is tucked away in it’s own private courtyard and immediately lets you know that you will be in for a grand affair. We were here to meet Michelin-starred chef Nigel Mendham and be treated to his refined British cuisine that’s been receiving much praise recently.
However, before dinner, it was requested that we first meet Alessandro Palazzi, head barmen at DUKES Bar and the creator of their famous Ian Fleming-inspired martini menu. As soon as you enter the bar, you realise this is a special place reserved for occasion. Greeted with a welcoming smile we took our seats at an intimately lit table for two, surrounded by groups of well-dressed individuals, a scene not a million miles away from those found in Fleming’s famous spy thrillers. Not surprising considering he was known for frequenting this establishment and the bar is said to be the inspiration for the classic line, ‘shaken, not stirred’.
The martinis here are by no way cheap (between £16-£18) but you certainly get what you pay for. The list of ingredients that are used to create each serve are excellent but the main event, is Alessandro himself. Having selected the Tiger Tanaka (Kazakhstan Snow Queen Vodka infused with Ginger and Orange Peel, Grand Marnier, Sacred DUKES Exclusive Amber Vermouth & King’s Ginger Liqueur) and Le Chiffre (Beluga Vodka, Sacred Rosehip Cup, Solerno Orange Liqueur, Vodka infused with Chilli, Orange Zest & Candy Rose), Alessandro re-enters the room with a drinks trolly laden with bottles, bitters and fresh ingredients and sets about working his magic in front of our eyes. It’s quite the captivating show, with accompanying tales of each spirit’s origins, Alessandro’s life and the story behind the creation of each serve, and why they say at DUKES, “arrive as a guest, leave as a friend.”
After all that ceremony, we knew the martinis were never going to disappoint and we were spot on. Each serve was perfectly smooth and slipped down with ease, owing to the calibre of spirit in each. The Le Chiffre offering up a healthy kick from the chilli and the Tiger Tanaka, warming the body through with that delicious King’s Ginger liqueur.
After the delights of the DUKES Bar, we made our way to Thirty Six, the hotel’s restaurant to sample Nigel Mendham’s latest menu. In 2012, DUKES was awarded three rosettes for culinary excellence, so we knew that we were in for a treat.
The restaurant is light and airy and guests, much like in the bar, are all sharing in a natural decorum that is instilled by the gracious staff, which help add to the feeling of grandeur as you peruse the menus of fine food and wine. Mr Mendham himself even joined us for a quick word to talk us through his latest creations, a much appreciated gesture indeed!
Wasting no time, we ordered two glasses of champagne and set about unraveling the menu and selecting the night’s fine feast. To start, we ordered the Pork Terrine with Langoustine, Pickled Vegetables and Granny Smith and the White Crab with Avocado & Pink Grapefruit. Both, beautifully arranged, with great precision. The terrine provided the palate with an intense flavour, accompanied by the sharp acidity from the Granny Smith. The Langoustine, almost serving as a miniature second course, was far meatier than we had envisaged and was extremely fresh in taste.
The crab did not disappoint either. Sat a-top an artistic smear of Avocado Purée and housed beneath a canopy of Pink Grapefruit Jelly and a sprinkling of Wood Sorrel, it was Nigel’s take on a classic favour combination and he was right on the money.
The mains gave us a tricky decision but in the end, all parties opted for the Braised Lamb Neck & Roast Lamb Rump with Wild Garlic, Goat’s Curd & Haricot Beans, the result being a simply stunning plate of food. The presentation followed that of the starters and the flavours were divine. The rich meat fell apart in our mouth and with each taste, we slowly slipped farther down into our chairs with only the ability to muster moans and groans of foodie delight to each other. A strange scene to imagine but one that we can all certainly relate to! Wild garlic was a new sensation for us but one that again, worked so well with the Goat’s Curd and Beans to make a really well rounded dish, and one which we wanted to savour to the very last bite.
Pick of the puds certainly had to be the Rhubarb. Very much in season, rhubarb is gracing the menus of many of London’s finest restaurants at the moment, great news as it is one of our favourites. Served with Vanilla Mousse, Honey, Ginger & Oat Tuile, this is a great dish to follow the rich Lamb, as the Rhubarb cuts through, almost acting as a palate cleanser and the contrasting textures of the Vanilla Mousse and Oat Tuile were the perfect accompaniment.
DUKES is certainly one for special occasions and it doesn’t disappoint. Whether it’s martinis in the bar with Alessandro or a gourmet delight at the hands of Nigel Mendham, one thing is for sure, you’ll never forget your night at DUKES.
We The Food Snobs x
For more information or to make a reservation at Thirty Six By Nigel Mendham please call 020 7491 4840 or visit www.dukeshotel.com