In May, Dukes London hotel relaunched its restaurant as an all-day British venue, GBR. Previously the fine-dining restaurant Thirty Six, it remains under the leadership of Norfolk-born executive head chef Nigel Mendham, who held a Michelin star at the Samling hotel in the Lake District.
WHERE IS IT?
On the lower-ground floor of the luxury property, on St James’s Place, off St James’s Street. The restaurant has its own entrance on Little St James’s Street; otherwise you can access it from the main hotel entrance – walk left past reception and head downstairs to find it.
The 58-seat space has been completely revamped from its previous incarnation. Gone are the heavy white tablecloths and orange, gold and black colour scheme, in their place a more relaxed look: parquet flooring, distressed mirror wall and ceiling panelling, pale grey velvet banquettes and glamorous vintage black-and-white shots of London scenes and famous faces. One, a photo of Bond-era Roger Moore, is a nod to the history of Dukes bar upstairs, a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming.
Black marble tables are topped with mini flower arrangements and glossy metallic tealight holders. A granite-topped bar now runs alongside one side, lined with blue leather stools, while part of the venue can be sectioned off to provide private dining for 12 guests.
It’s a warm, inviting space, aided by glowing lighting and a soft soul soundtrack. It was very quiet on the Friday night I visited, though, with only a handful of tables – the tucked-away location means it may struggle to pick up passing trade.
GBR stands for Great British Restaurant, so, as you would expect, the menu includes plenty of traditional dishes – Scotch egg, shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney pie, rice pudding – albeit with an elevated twist.
I started with the heritage beetroot with sheep’s curd, hazelnut and chard (£7.50), which was very enjoyable, the sweet, earthy chunks of beet finely balanced by the creamy nuggets of cheese and crumbled nuts.
My companion had the potted shrimps (£11.50) with rye bread and pickled cucumber. The bread was more a delicate crisp, while the sharpness of the cucumber cut nicely through the buttery prawns. We also tried the signature lamb merguez sausage roll (£6), which was beautifully spiced and came with a cooling tzatziki dip.
For mains, I opted for pork rib eye (£18), which was prettily presented with dainty, tangy cylinders of Bramley apple, an apple purée, mini onions and a sage crumb. The meat was flavoursome and succulent, if not the heartiest of portions. A side of broccoli with pancetta and almond (£4.50) went down well.
The beer-battered fish and chips (£16) was well executed, accompanied by perfectly crisp sweet potato fries, spot-on tartare sauce and a mushy-pea croquette.
For dessert, we polished off a light and lovely lemon curd parfait with lime leaf cream and crispy meringue (£7), and a delightfully retro, not-too-sweet raspberry trifle layered with jelly, pistachio cake and vanilla custard, and topped with a scoop of raspberry sorbet (£8).
A selection of signature cocktails, British craft beers and a largely European list of wines are on offer. My companion declared his St James Manhattan (Antica Formula, rye whiskey, orange curaçao; £12) the match of any cocktail he’s had in Dukes bar, including its legendary, mind-blowing martinis.
Friendly, helpful and attentive throughout.
Like many London hotel restaurants in recent years, Dukes has gone for a more relaxed approach with GBR, while retaining the refined approach to food Mendham is known for. Every dish we tried was very good, and the place looks great; all it needs now is a bit more of a buzz.
Open daily for breakfast 7am-11am; brunch/lunch 11am-6pm; afternoon tea 1pm-6pm; dinner 6pm-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.
Dukes hotel, 35 St James’s Place (restaurant entrance at 36 Little St James’s Street); tel +44 (0)20 7491 4840; gbrrestaurantslondon.com