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Thirty Six at Dukes Hotel Red Carpet review

Thirty Six at Dukes

 

In the run-up to Christmas a central London business day rarely goes to plan; a quick drink with old friends, another meeting that’s run over, a quick drink with old friends, the photocall is off schedule, a quick drink with…  But it’s heartening that our next port of call views Red Carpet’s tardiness with equanimity.  Sat Bal runs late. ( 7 Dec 11)

Thirty Six, the new restaurant at Dukes hotel , takes its last lunch orders at 2.30pm. Knowing that we’d arrive nearer to 3pm it made sense to phone in the menu choices early, not least to spare the chef’s sanity.  Unlike some Mayfair menus, you don’t have to peer at Thirty Six’s menu as if deciphering runic incantations. The lunch choices are both simple and familiar British fare such as beef, duck and ham hock - although we later discover that the chef’s interpretation of it is anything but familiar.

 

As the car glides past St James’s art galleries and gentlemen’s clubs towards Dukes it’s easy to reflect on the lore that’s grown up around this celebrated hotel.  Ian Fleming, a regular at Dukes bar, reputedly came up with the request ‘Martini. Shaken, not stirred’ here, a phrase later immortalised in his James Bond works.

 

The image is reinforced on arrival in the courtyard at 36 Little St James Street where the Union Jack proudly presides over the entrance to Dukes. The bustle of London, left behind just minutes ago, is replaced with the newfound tranquillity of a Dickensian street dotted with Georgian lanterns. Where’s snow when you need it?

 

 

Inside Dukes we are led to Thirty Six past the Perrier-Jouët champagne lounge (above)designed by Shaun Clarkson where anyone with sense (and time) would languish in his inviting pink-green haven - but it’s edging past 3pm so we head straight to lunch.

 

Inside the intimate dining space, which hosts 36 diners, a couple of tables are occupied by late lunchers. One group is comfortably settled in Loro Piana cashmere wraps while the other table is young and slick-suited. What they have in common is a post-lunch unhurriedness.

 

Aga, our hostess, welcomes us with a Mr Smith Shiraz and its cherry warmth sets us up for the starter of clafoutis, a confection of cheese, liquid tomato and herb salad which chef Nigel Mendham creates and presents with signature perfection. He comes to Dukes with a Michelin-starred, AA-rosette pedigree earned at The Samling, the country house hotel that formed part of the old von Essen luxury venues portfolio.

 

Mendham brings various quirks to his dishes, including the lightly smoked cod starter which features savoury, decorative foam - a recurrent style theme as we later discover. By the time the braised beef main dish arrives the conversation about England’s cold winter, climatic and economic, is all but forgotten. Indeed, the hot homely food is a perfect antidote to the bitter outside world. The braised beef of sticky cheek, parsley and burgundy infusion tastes both delicate and delicious. The texture of the beef is barely there as it quietly merges with the dish’s fluffy mash constitution.

 

The braised beef alone is one reason to return to Thirty Six and you get the feeling that Nigel Mendham has spared the Rational oven, so beloved of many time-pressed chefs, and dropped  technology for traditional in the kitchen.

It’s when dessert arrives that he really starts to play with the palate.  Apple and brambles, a crumble, brûlée and sorbet delight is warmly complemented with a glass (or two) of fulsome Tawny port and the off-menu Macaroon jelly dish infused with cold jam takes the tongue from acid highs to sweetly sublime.

 Martini is the drink that Dukes became legendary for with its famous bar frequented by the famous. It also gels the next part of our plan. The recurring refrain of Dukes’ style, Ian Fleming and Martini later has me screeching to a halt outside Davidoff of London. We know that the establishment’s cigars have featured in several Bond films; Pierce and Roger buy from here. I also know that it’s my nephew’s birthday, a huge Aston Martin-driving Bond fan, who’s ensconced at The Ritz just a stone’s throw away.  Inspiration indeed…

 

Dukes 3-course lunch  £28  (without wine)

 

See http://www.dukeshotel.com

 

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