Hotel Review: Dukes Hotel, St James’s Pl in Mayfair, London
Luxury travel and food writer Nicholas Gibbons travels to central London to spend a night at the award-winning and world-famous Dukes Hotel.
Dukes lies at the heart of London’s ‘royal village’ of St James’s in upmarket Mayfair – an area steeped in both history and glamour. Tucked away down a quiet cul-de-sac, this luxury boutique hotel is a three minute walk to Green Park tube station, while Buckingham Palace is no more than ten minutes away. Jermyn Street is close by and the hotel is conveniently located for shoppers and theatre-goers alike as it’s a stones throw from Piccadilly and the West End.
This five-star hotel has built up more accolades than both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo combined. Awarded ‘AA London Hotel of the Year’ and named ‘England’s Leading Classic Hotel’ at the World Travel Awards in 2015, Dukes is certainly no stranger to the limelight.
You can’t fail to be impressed by its character and charm. The building with its ivy-draped iron archway has all the elegance one would expect from a premium hotel. It’s reassuringly old-fashioned (the hotel dates back from 1908) but is far from stuffy and suffocating. Dukes has successfully blended quintessential British elegance with cosmopolitan luxury. The balance between the two is perfect and I hope they don’t change this winning formula anytime soon.
Modern touches are subtle. The property houses impressive old school paintings on the walls of the lobby and in the bar.
The hotel boasts 90 rooms; many recently refurbished, including five super luxurious suites, some with views of Green Park.
I was fortunate enough to stay in a Junior Suite. This large open plan suite was elegant, offered superb natural light and had subtle, muted tones, which contrasted well with the darker antique furniture.
The suite offered an interactive flat screen TV, large wooden writing desk, in-room safe, marble en-suite bathroom with bathtub, shower and Ren toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and a self controlled air-conditioning unit (this came in rather handy as it was 28 degrees outside). I’m a big fan of those little extra touches and Dukes certainly did not disappoint on this front. A selection of handmade chocolates and fresh fruit were waiting for me on arrival.
Overall I thought the soothing pastel colours really helped to create a relaxing environment and I could have stayed at least one extra night.
Food & Drink
The hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Thirty Six, is under the culinary control of Nigel Mendham. His ultra-refined, British cuisine has already secured the restaurant three coveted AA rosettes. I’m a big fan of Nigel’s cooking, having previously eaten at his Michelin star restaurant at The Samling Hotel in the Lake District in 2010.
Preferring to keep technology out of the kitchen, Nigel told me that he focuses on using time-honoured techniques and the very best British ingredients to create his seasonal menus. In my opinion (hopefully expert), Nigel’s cuisine is some of the best modern British food you will find in London this year. It’s really that good.
I opted for the five course tasting menu, which only costs £39.99. This is massively under priced when you consider the restaurant’s affluent location and could actually put fine diners off from visiting as many still use price as an indicator for excellence. This price tag does not do the quality of the cooking justice, but let’s forget about that for the moment and focus on the food.
I took my seat in the beautifully presented dining area and was soon presented with an amuse bouche of fresh pea, a beautifully cooked quail egg, salmon caviar and crème fraiche. This delicate dish was a luxurious start to the meal and certainly helped to build the anticipation for the next course.
This arrived 15 minutes later and consisted of a free range chicken terrine, summer truffle, broad beans and girolles. I have to say that the sight of chicken (in any format) never really excites me and I will tend to avoid this meat when picking off an à la carte menu. But I was pleasantly surprised; the chicken terrine was beautifully moist and had been handled with real care and attention. The truffle and girolles added some richness to the dish but overall it was light and very flavoursome. I liked the addition of the broad beans as this element helped to add some colour to the plate.
Next up was a superbly presented fish dish of south coast plaice, summer brassicas, crab, apple and almond. Nigel has built up a fantastic reputation for cooking some of the best seafood in the capital and he did not disappoint. The plaice was cooked perfectly, and the addition of the apple was a masterstroke as it really helped to add crunch and sharpness to the dish. The almond puree was exceptional as it provided a completely different texture to the plate. It was soft, fresh and light. Individually the elements were wonderful and together they created an enjoyable dish.
Course four was a juicy fillet of Cambrian beef, which was served with Heritage carrots (cooked three ways), curd and spelt. This hearty, simple dish showcased the quality of the ingredients and the strength of the flavours. The beef was cooked medium rare and was succulent, tender and plump. The carrot puree was sweet and really worked well with the beef fillet. This dish was certainly the heaviest on the menu and was possibly more suited to an autumn or winter tasting menu. That said I loved it so was not complaining too much.
Course five really appealed to me; it was a stunning dish of dark chocolate, roasted apricot, hazelnut and chocolate crumble. The dark chocolate added the bitterness, while the apricot provided an element of sweetness. I loved the addition of the whole hazelnuts to add crunch and texture and then the use of the hazelnut ice cream to help balance out the bitterness from the dark chocolate and the sweetness of the roasted apricot. It left the palate clean and refreshed, and really demonstrated how talented Nigel’s cooking is. Overall this is a dish for those of us that love the classic combination of bitter and sweet.
The wine flight was perfectly matched throughout the evening with my personal highlight being the 2014 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that accompanied the fish course. It really helped to take this dish to another level. The wine sommelier was an absolute delight and his knowledge was up there with the very best I’ve experienced. He also looked interested in what he was saying and his passion for his job came across very well. I would suggest Nigel does everything in his power to keep him happy.
I would say the secret of Nigel’s excellence is the balance between classical flavours meticulously prepared, and a contemporary flair to produce both stunning presentation and taste. He understands textures and his cooking is very seasonal and on brand with the hotel’s ethos of refined luxury. This helps to give the restaurant a clear identity which people can understand and buy into. A Michelin star is surely on the horizon.
The white-walled interior of Thirty Six was very much in keeping with the elegant décor of the hotel itself. The setting is very warm, welcoming and intimate. You feel very special and not just another customer. Low lighting and neutral colours help to create a relaxed environment to enjoy the superb food and wine. The use of white table cloths adds to the elegant feel and the restaurant oozed charm and sophistication.
The Dukes Bar
This iconic bar is internationally renowned for its famous martinis and personalised cocktails. Frequented by the late James Bond author, Ian Fleming, the bar is said to be the inspiration for the highly celebrated phrase: ‘A Martini. Shaken, not stirred’. I would best describe the Dukes Bar as intimate with the feel and atmosphere of a gentlemen’s club.
During my stay I must say that the hospitality was impeccable throughout the hotel. From the waiting team to the receptionists, it’s very clear that the staff have been skilfully trained and have fully bought into the hotel’s brand values. They genuinely seemed to be pleased to talk to you, which is not always the case at five-star establishments, especially in the capital.
In A Nutshell
I really enjoyed staying at this hidden gem. It’s situated off the main roads of London but still in the heart of everything. The hotel certainly understands that luxury lies not only in the elegant décor and refined furnishing, but also the way you are treated and made to feel very welcome. They have pretty much nailed every aspect, and Dukes to me felt more like a manor house than a super luxury hotel. I will visit again.
Address: 35 St James’s Pl, London SW1A 1NY / 020 7491 4840