by Ben McCormac, The Telegraph, April 3, 2017
“Hidden gem” is a restaurant cliché but The Stafford Hotel, at the dead end of a St James’s cul-de-sac, is a genuine diamond. The easiest way to find it is by ducking into Blue Ball Yard, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it mews off St James’s Street where martini nirvana awaits in the shape of the hotel’s American Bar, way less touristy than its namesake rival at The Savoy and somewhere that feels like stumbling across a secret drinking society.
The American Bar is so called because The Stafford served as a club for US and Canadian servicemen stationed in London during the Second World War, when the hotel’s 380-year-old wine cellars functioned as an air-raid shelter. It’s still a magnet for Americans today who love the killer cocktails and cutesy setting, complete with a cobbled courtyard for summer drinking.
The Game Bird is The Stafford’s latest attempt to turn its dining room into a destination to match its bar. First impressions are of somewhere more like an afternoon tea lounge than a restaurant, all turquoise velvet and floral fabrics, and awkwardly positioned en route from the hotel’s reception to the American Bar. It is, however, exceptionally comfortable and the smiley staff are lovely - definitely not the formal five-star norm.
That’s not the only point of difference. Britain might now be a global leader in gastro tourism but few top-end hotels actually serve British cooking. Here there is fish pie with cider and bacon and roast pigeon with parsnips and cabbage, plus clever modern ideas such as smoked Norfolk black chicken with bacon jam, so the menu doesn’t just read like something sponsored by English Heritage.
Ordering smoked salmon in a restaurant can be a bit of a cop-out given you can buy it from your fishmonger, but here it’s majestically carved on a trolley and served with trimmings of egg, cucumber and dill pickle. Don’t try this at home unless you’ve some serious prep time on your hands. Dressed crab is split by a pastel tricolour of chopped egg yolk, mayonnaise and parsley purée, but the fleeting sweetness of the crabmeat doesn’t need anything extra to enhance it apart from some toasted soda bread to slather it over.
Best of all are the sweet and savoury puddings. Chunks of steak, slow-cooked to softness and bound by a beery gravy, are encased in a perfectly steamed dome of suet. And a golden syrup sponge twinkles like treasure before being extinguished with custard. Too Tom Brown’s School Days? Try instead thornback ray chopped up with grilled leeks, scattered with brown shrimps and slicked with beurre noisette, or a pistachio soufflé collapsing under a dollop of white chocolate ice cream.
London hotels are now overseen by some of the most famous chefs in the world, but The Stafford’s executive chef James Durrant is no slouch, having launched restaurants for Gordon Ramsay, opened his own award-winning gastropub and won the main course of 2014’s Great British Menu. Here at The Stafford, he’s created a great British menu which is another winner.
Who to take: American clients for dinner and relatives for Sunday roast.
What to order: Chicken Kiev so buttery it comes with a bib to wear.
The Stafford London, 16-18 St James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NJ; thestaffordlondon.com