This restaurant relaunched last year under executive head chef Nigel Mendham. It was previously called Thirty Six. The GBR stands for Great British Restaurant, so perhaps it’s best that it’s left as an acronym since this it sounds like a boast and yet having been there it isn’t that sort of flash place at all: the opposite in fact – more like quietly confident.
Where is it?
On the lower-ground floor of Duke’s Hotel on St James’s Place, off St James’s Street.
The restaurant has its own entrance on Little St James’s Street but you can also walk through the hotel restaurant and down the stairs to get there.
Considering you are expecting to enter a basement, it’s pleasantly bright and cheery, partly because somehow despite entering at street level and descending you are still at street level (must be the hill, I suppose), and partly because of the design, which has distressed mirror wall and ceiling panelling to reflect both the natural light coming in through the windows and the antique-style bulb lighting on the walls.
It’s smart but not stuffy, with light-coloured parquet flooring, candles on the table, black leather banquettes and art deco glass panels between some of the tables.
The 58-seat space has vintage black-and-white shots of London scenes and famous faces. Glasses hang above the granite-topped bar, with seating at it provided by blue leather stools. When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed to a soundtrack of jazz.
The menu is full of traditional dishes and luckily we had arrived with a good appetite.
My starter of H Formans smoked salmon, curried potatoes and horseradish cream (£16.50) was delicious and satisfying with the main course of Cumbrian lamb cutlets with braised shoulder shepherd’s pie and savoy cabbage (£24.50) similarly filling. My companion had the grilled radicchio, raisins, salted walnuts and baked Ragstone (£9.50) and roast loin of venison, ‘Bubble & Squeak’ Curious Brew Ale (£23.50).
Not only was the food delicious and served in generous portions, it was also excellent value for money. The following may sound insulting, but I mean it in the best sense when I say this is the sort of food your mother would have cooked if she could. It looks simple, but is elegantly served, and the descriptions in the menu led you exactly towards the dish that appeared .
For drinks there are cocktails, beers, spirits and liquors, as you’d imagine, but we stuck with wine from the short, but well-chosen, wine list, also available by the glass. We started with a couple of glasses of 2014 Chablis 1er Cru ‘Vau-Ligneau’, Domaine de la Motte, France and then I had a glass of Argentinian Malbec (Pascual Toso), Mendoza (£12) with my main course of lamb.
Desserts were also hearty, but subtle in flavour: I chose the Bramley apple crumble tart with ginger, oats and Russet apple sorbet (£8.50), while the British artisan cheeses included Helford Blue, Cerney Ash and Montgomery Cheddar (£11.50). We had two glasses of Moscato Passito with these (£8.50 each).
Throughout the meal this was friendly, but unobtrusive. We had some good advice about the wine without being upsold, and we learned a little about the region the sweet wine came from.
This more relaxed approach works well, though it will always be a difficult location to fill with passing trade. If you want good food in a central location, I think it’s a great find.
Open daily for breakfast 7-11am; brunch/lunch 11am-6pm; afternoon tea 1-6pm; dinner 6-10.30pm.
Starters £6-£11.50; mains £14-£22; desserts £7.50-£8.50. All-day set menu: two courses for £19, three courses for £25. Wine from £8 by the glass; from £28 by the bottle.
Duke’s Hotel, 35 St James’s Place (restaurant entrance at 36 Little St James’s Street); tel +44 (0)20 7491 4840; gbrrestaurantslondon.com