It’s been a little over a year since GBR (Great British Restaurant) opened in venerable Duke’s Hotel in St James's, which is about enough time to see how things are going following its honeymoon period. I say this because basement restaurants in posh-postcode London don’t always do very well. The setting/location – despite a reliable chef, decent menu and strong brand name – means they’re hard to fill.
There are places with these traits, though, that are exceptions to the rule. Ormer at Fleming’s
(collab with Shaun Rankin) is one such. Loved it when it opened, but its lower-ground-floor, back-of-the-hotel coordinates made me think it had as much chance as a Love Island
wedding. And yet when I went back to the attached Manetta’s Bar a year later it was busy – and not just with don’t-know-any-better tourists. In fact, I saw a fellow journalist having dinner with his partner – high praise indeed.
Like Ormer, getting to the restaurant through Dukes requires either a compass or a chaperone. I quite like, this, though: it reminded me of that scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco’s characters are escorted to the best seats in the house. When you get there, you’re welcomed by a tasteful space, all smoked and mottled mirrors, frosted-glass dividers and framed photos of Roger Moore. In the wrong context the latter would be mawkish, but I know how much Dukes Bar’s main tender Alessandro adores Bond. And didn’t Ian Fleming used to drink in there?
The Anglophile thread carries into the all-day diner’s new-ish sharing plates summer menu. A range of 15 dishes – served both on small and normal-sized plates – include the likes of Wye Valley asparagus, fish and chips and muscovy duck. Exec chef Nigel Mendham is channelling Blighty’s best pub and manor-house hotel menus to nostalgic effect. The excellent spears we started with – delivered with a cured-egg yolk and burnt onion mayonnaise – reminded me of family outings to Evesham’s Asparafest in the summer holidays.
The signature duck was beautifully presented, but didn’t excite as much as the red gunard, which came with a light spiced shellfish broth, super-salty white crab and fulfilling Northumberland spuds. Elsewhere, the Hoxton jellied eels (delivered in a playful foam cup) with pickled celeriac, crispy pigs head and watercress were tangy and rich, just as they should be.
The GBR pulled pork burger is stretching the theme somewhat – or is it? Every pub in the land has a burger on the menu nowadays – but I can forgive that on account of the moreish melting meat. Back on the correct side of the Atlantic, things are made right with a ‘you have to try this’ Yorkshire rhubarb shortbread, which crossed the Ts and dotted the Is on a best of British dining experience. There’s not much here that’s novel, but that’s not really the point. (Mainly) old English ingredients, served up modern and pretty will, I will posit, be a hit with clients or colleagues who want to indulge in familiar flavours.
If yours isn’t an entirely private dinner, look to the four-seater. Otherwise, there’s a private dining room – complete with its own fireplace – next door that accommodates 12 people. The other option is the new four-course Chef’s Bar offering, where each course is paired with an English sparkler (£110pp). Informal group gatherings of up to seven can enjoy plate that each come with their own introduction.
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