GBR in St James’s
The Dukes belongs to that group of boutique luxury hotels that make St James’s one of the most exclusive destinations for London’s visitors. These quintessentially British establishments are stepping up their food-and-drinks game to reach beyond their guests, and that’s the aim of GBR. The name, which stands for Great British Restaurant, might sound a bit presumptuous and it gives a wink to the current “British first” climate but – as we all know – looks can be deceiving.
As much as I like most of the places in this labyrinth of cul-de-sacs, I was worried GBR would be yet another rebranding of a faded restaurant; thankfully it’s not. From bar to the tables, from the crockery to the glasses, everything is brand new. The renovation makes a clever use of mirrors on the walls and the ceiling to make this elegant yet casual dining room brighter than you’d ever expect. Chef Nigel Mendham – of Michelin-star fame in the Lake District – joined the Dukes in 2011 and was quickly awarded three rosettes on this very same ground, where Thirty Six used to be. From the dishes, you can tell his confidence and also his eagerness to approach food with a more informal-gourmet direction.
It’s spring and we want to make the most of the season so we start with Wye Valley Asparagus; we also want to test the Britishness of this menu and we order Scotch Egg and Norfolk Crab. Every course is nicely done: the asparagus – you won’t see these beauties anymore from July – combines perfectly with the quail eggs and it’s served with a little bowl of hollandaise for the greedy; the scotch egg is one of Mendham’s specialities (see his Great British Chefs recipe), he uses venison and black pudding to make it richer, and it delivers that intensity; Norfolk crabs are known to be some of the world’s best and if you are fond of the ten-leg crustcean, you’ll love this one too.
The menu highlights three signature mains – burger, chicken and sausage roll – but we decide to taste the more sophisticated dishes below. First the Goosnargh Duck. It’s once again a very British choice (Goosnargh is a Lancashire village where they breed this cross of Aylesbury and Peking ducks to achieve an optimal meat-to-bone balance) and, coming at just £18.50, it’s quite a bargain. It’s slightly overcooked but the meat is still tender while crisp on the skin. The wild bass with morels and bacon is a delight although pescatarians might not be happy with the bacon elements (it’s in the shredded cabbage too).
If you go full-on “British” with your choices you’ll probably be a little full by this point of the meal so my advice is to take it easy because the desserts shouldn’t be missed – or, more precisely, the Dark Chocolate shouldn’t be. When chocolate mousse combines with hazelnut ice cream and bitter chocolate crumble in the mouth, it’s a chocolate dream. Yes, I’ve used the word chocolate four times, that should give an accurate idea of the taste. We also have a bite of Lemon Curd for a refreshing finale.
There’s an ample selection of wines by the glass – although the sparkling ones are, sadly, overpriced – and cocktails to choose from; don’t be put off by the name or the Union Jack above the door, try GBR on a sunny day and you’ll be in for a British food treat.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at GBR, 36 Little St James Street SW1A 1NY, call 020 7491 4840 or visit here.