A new kind of all-day dining room has landed in the traditionally staid locale of London’s St. James’s. Quash everything you know about The Stafford Hotel. What has arrived represents a successful re-immergence into the privileged world of casual fine dining. A bright, spacious dining room has been thoughtfully and elegantly decorated in pale blues and yellows. Tables are beautifully laid with crisp-white linen and with ample space between each. A wall of windows floods the room with light. Walls are sparsely hung with a noteworthy, eclectic art collection including Carne Griffiths’ gold leaf and diamond-dusted royal portraits. The restaurant’s charm lies in its intimate setting, located in a hidden corner tucked away behind The Ritz. This place is for serious foodies. At the helm of The Game Bird is executive chef (and former Gordon Ramsey protégé to boot) James Durant who, upon our arrival, bounds over, showering us with details of his passion and excitement for the new menu, a celebration of what he (and us) considers the very best in contemporary British comfort classics. He is accompanied by the restaurant’s knowledgeable director, who intrigues us with wonderful tales of the building’s origins – once a private residence for Queen Victoria’s children’s nanny, Lady Lyttelton.
Our light-filled corner booth, to the right as you enter, provided a super vista in which to observe the jollity of a buzzy Wednesday luncheon. Elegant ladies lunched, middle-aged bigwigs set about closing their next deal. Indeed, everybody is comfortable and welcome here. Although reminiscent of old-school Britannia’s glory days, the restaurant will no doubt entice a discerning global diner, perhaps attracted by the fact it boasts London’s oldest wine cellar, along with charm personified, master sommelier Gino Nardella, who will celebrate his 40th year at the hotel very soon. He is reason alone to pop in. The space has been renovated to an exceptional standard, fusing the original 17th century features with additional floral upholstery, reinforcing the ‘game’ theme. Nothing too feminine or vulgar, everything is sleek, smart and bright. The entire menu is constantly updated; indeed, the broad offering of game meats could have been shot that very day. In addition, the service is friendly and engaging, like a good acquaintance might greet you.
As my companion and I discuss a recent adventure in Péru, I am presented with fresh, crunchy asparagus with fried duck egg, accompanied by a punchy noisette butter emulsion and spring truffles. Next up was a sensibly-sized Norfolk black chicken Kiev, a dish so scrumptious and buttery that each diner is presented with a little bib in case of spillage - a helpful yet practical quirk. My companion devours three creamy Orkney scallops, nestled in with roasted cauliflower, smoked roe and a herby gremolata. Clean, fresh. Absolutely not a peep from my guest – wolfed down. This was further outdone by a brilliant ice-white hunk of Cornish cod, so divinely delicious a neighbouring diner whispered inquisitively to her guest about its provenance. Other dishes that excited were the grilled lobster, braised English rose veal and fish pie. What Gino doesn’t know about wine is not worth knowing and, on his helpful recommendation, we both polished off a spectacular Chablis 1er Cru from the Domaine Simmonet-Febvre in Burgundy. Crisp, clean - just wonderful. Upon departure, Gino offers us an impromptu tour of a stable of rooms currently undergoing a total refurbishment, located to the rear of the hotel in a tranquil mews, which will shortly be welcoming their first guests. Tastefully executed in unobtrusive blue, grey and cream hues, the rooms boast all the amenities one would expect for a typically luxurious getaway, with expansive marble bathrooms and large roll-top baths. We’ve heard the afternoon tea is rather good, too, so pencil out a whole afternoon – you’ll need it.
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