The newly redesigned restaurant of The Stafford in St James, idiosyncratically entitled The Game Bird, is an elegant, inviting space befitting its discerning customers. With a china blue palette, comfortable seating, marble-topped tables and a butcher’s cabinet showcasing some of the premium meats on offer, there is a warm, clubby atmosphere to the new dining room that never feels too formal.
Meanwhile, Executive Chef James Durrant, whose impressive CV includes the three Michelin star Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Claridge’s and Maze, has created a tempting menu of British classics, which he has painstakingly refined, whilst keeping the heart and soul of each dish. If you have fond memories of a suet pie, there will be even more to love here. Celebrating some of the finest ingredients throughout the land, Colchester and Porthilly oysters, Orkney scallops, Lincolnshire smoked eel, Rhug Estate fallow deer and Salt Marsh lamb, you know it’s a good menu when you can’t decide what to plump for, and the concept of reviving British favourites fits superbly well within this popular St James hotel which has struggled to create a destination restaurant before now.
Alongside the hugely appealing à la carte, the restaurant runs a Sunday lunch menu (£40 for three courses) featuring roast grass-fed rib of beef hand carved from the trolley, and a great value market menu (£30 for three courses) that is certain to attract the local business crowd, not all of whom have blank chequebooks for client entertaining these days. Some starters will certainly ease the strain on the kitchen during a busy lunchtime service, including the famous H Forman & Son smoked salmon, carved table side. This not only adds a touch of theatre to what is a very simple dish, but goes some way to rekindling our appreciation of this long since taken-for-granted British delicacy.
Oysters Rockefeller happen to be one of my ultimate comfort foods, and these were extremely well selected and prepared, while my husband made equally contented murmurs over his dressed Devon crab with toasted soda bread. The starters did take a while to be cleared due to a lack of available waiting staff (perhaps too many people ordered the smoked salmon), although it’s very early days and I expect the team will be increased over the coming weeks. On the positive side, the current front of house brigade are extremely friendly and the pause between courses was just right.
There were certainly plenty of laughs when the waitress offered me a leather bib to protect my dress from the spurting garlic butter of the chicken Kiev I had chosen for main. One of the restaurant’s signature dishes, Durrant has succeeded in reinventing this ultimate comfort food by encasing the generously garlic butter-filled Norfolk Black chicken in an irresistibly crunchy, golden breadcrumb, with slices of black truffle to finish. Served with equally buttery mash, the richness of the dish was gloriously satisfying, although I was grateful for the side of greens, which offered a welcome contrast and made me feel slightly less guilty. It promises to be one of the most talked about dishes in London. My husband’s whole Dover sole meunière gave me a run for my money on the butter stakes, and looked just as appetising whilst being expertly filleted table side, enough reason for it to appear on the menu despite the word ‘Dover’ being the only thing British about it.
While the 380-year-old wine cellars at The Stafford were once used as an air raid shelter during WWII, they’ve long since been returned to their intended purpose, with a capacity of up to 8,000 bottles of the finest wines and room enough for private dining and tastings besides. The wine list is an impressive tome thanks to Master Sommelier Gino Nardella’s expertise, and therefore even the entry level wines are sure to be something special. The Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Merlot 2012 was certainly worth its weight in gold at £46.50 a bottle, with a rich purple colouring and a complexity which pays tribute to the traditions of Bourdeaux, whilst balancing the old-world notes of musk and dark berries with exotic hints of spice and cacao. It’s easy to see how Casa Lapostolle was once preferred to a Chateau Pétrus during a now legendary blind tasting of wine experts.
I noted with delight that we are given a ‘pudding’ rather than a ‘dessert’ menu, and believe me these are not merely an aside at The Game Bird, they are an event. French desserts feature heavily and prompt an inner tug of war within me; do I choose Lyle’s golden syrup sponge with custard to cement my nationalism or can I cross the channel for apple tarte tatin or pistachio soufflé? In the end I opt for the soufflé with white chocolate ice cream and my husband the sponge, almost as light and dreamy a texture as my well risen cloud of pale green. If you’re looking for comfort food, then The Game Bird is like being wrapped in a cashmere blanket whilst flying first class.
The Game Bird at The Stafford, 16-18 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NJ. For more information and to make a reservation please visit the website.