GBR, the new restaurant at Dukes London hotel in St James’s, stands for ‘Great British Resturant’. Does it deliver? Alec Marsh finds out
If you want the measure of a place, order the prawn cocktail. That’s the sure-fire way of determining whether or not it’s any good, presupposing of course that it has this comforting staple on the menu.
The prawn cocktail at the newly opened GBR (that’s ‘Great British Restaurant’) at Dukes hotel in St James’s comes in a broad low bowl with a knife and fork. As a result there’s no awkward slipping, levering or teasing of the spoon as you probe the recesses of the usual fluted glass goblet (you know the one; it looks like it’s off-duty from ice-cream sundae shift).
No, here, the centre of gravity is firmly on the table and you divide and conquer your prawn cocktail with an almost cold calculation; except it’s not cold in that fashion at all, because it’s simply delicious. The prawns are dense and fragrant, zinging with clean prawny flavour. They come enveloped with crushed avocado and sprigged with a spot on measure of wispy shredded lettuce, rather than being perched high up, atop the glass, the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
Mrs M, being a good Scotswoman, went for the venison and black pudding Scotch Egg, served with a dish of honey mustard. The egg was silky, and the Scotch part of the bargain was succulently meaty – and the battered ‘shell’ delivered an appealing crunch. Full marks and all the better washed down with a daring little Devonian 2015 Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve Madeleine Angevine, which carried just enough freight to balance the starters and fitted the theme.
Next was the Wild Bass, late of the English Channel they said, served on a bed of morels, cured bacon and light spring cabbage and topped with a white foam of almost truffle-like potency. The savoury notes of the mushrooms and the saltiness of the bacon performed a flawless tango with the fluffy, crisp-skinned bass.
For sheer firepower, however, the Bass was blown clean from the water, by the broadside of Mrs M’s Isle of Gigha Halibut, served on a bed of clam chowder and foraged sea herbs. The collective sweet, round, chewy fishiness delivered a massive nauticalia of flavour and can’t be recommended highly enough. Don’t delay, lest the Isle of Gigha runs out of halibut.
Both were served with buttery Jersey Royals, Buttered Heritage carrots and for sheer indulgence purposes, a side dish of cauliflower cheese.
To give the main course it’s due we switched to the recommended 2013 Chablis Cuvee Vielle Vignes: and this didn’t disappoint. With a bedrock of peach and lemon and a breath of fresh air off the nose, this woody, bone-dry chardonnay rippled on the tongue.
Pudding was al dente roasted rhubarb with a cherubic dollop of custard ice cream and ginger biscuit. Mrs M had the lemon curd, a buttery, cool parfait with lime leaf cream and powdery, crunchy meringue.
It is a fact that restaurants situated within hotels find it harder to achieve the success that a standalone eatery of similar quality might enjoy. It’s more than just the lack of passing trade; it’s also the fact that the creative vision that goes into the hotel restaurant is somehow dissipated or lost within the broader context. Somehow the hard work doesn’t always get noticed.
GBR, which incidentally has been given its own front door in its recent refurbishment, certainly deserves to break free from the gravitational pull of its esteemed mothership and go where other in-house culinary outlets do not.
Elegant, understated and relaxed, the space is light and the menu under its chef Nigel Mendham – who earned a Michelin star while at the Samling Hotel in the Lake District – has been reborn to follow the restaurant’s distinctive new GBR rebranding. Which all means this this is a calm corner of St James’s that you should put on the list – and soon – and certainly while the spring menu is still here to offer you the Isle of Gigha halibut.
Great British Restaurant is what it says on the tin; and great British food is what it sets out to deliver.
Alec Marsh is Editor at Spear's