A High Edwardian Bolt Hole
Tucked away in elegant St James’s, The Stafford Hotel offers understated and refined accommodation
Review by Rupert Watkins
Walking in The Stafford London, you immediately feel comfortable. The establishment, founded in 1912, is hidden away behind St James’s Street and retains a refined and intimate air. By London standards, it is not a large hotel with 107 rooms, 67 in the main house. The main house was originally the residence of Lord Lyttleton in the 18th Century and today there remains the feel of an Edwardian country house, perhaps aided by the compact nature of the lobby and main function rooms.
Walking through the restaurant and past the hotel’s famous American Bar, you step out into the hotel’s courtyard, a cobblestoned reminder of the hotel’s history, outdoor seating for those enjoying the bar and the entrance to both the Mews and Carriage House suites. With separate entrances and lobbies these are virtually a hotel within a hotel. Being shown up to one of the 26 Mews Suites, my guest and I found a sizeable, airy room with a mix of English country house and Art Deco decoration. As one would expert there was plenty of wardrobe space and a large and well-equipped bathroom. A large and powerful walk in shower, twin wash basins and a large bath catered for all eventualities whilst Floris toiletries are a very English touch. Despite overlooking Park Place rather than the inner courtyard, our room was quiet.
Given its size, The Stafford’s gym is small, located in the Mews basement. Equipped with a Technogym apparatus it is there for fitness, the size of the Stafford precludes spas and treatment rooms – something I rather like as it avoids the “A” list swamped beauticians and consequent extra crush you can get in larger establishments. Guests are here for the refined, discreet rooms, historic and characterful bar and the food at the Game Bird restaurant.
Unless there for an event, guests are unlikely to see the hotel’s remarkable cellars though they are certainly worthy of mention. Over 350 years old, parts of them pre-dating the original house above, it was reputed for many decades some of the doors lead through to St James’s Palace next door. Now used for private events, wine storage and tastings; the hotel has some 8,000 bottles there.
The Stafford London’s location means many of London’s attractions are on your doorstep; from the well-known such as the Royal Academy, National Gallery, Jermyn Street or Harrods to under the radar gems such as the neo-classical splendour of Spenser House or the Triforium Gallery at Westminster Abbey.
Following a tour of Spenser House, my guest and I returned to the hotel for tea and a pause before we dined in the Game Bird restaurant. With space at a premium, the restaurant shares the main hotel thoroughfare through to the bar and courtyard with the small drawing room offering a comfortable perch for a spot of people watching. The Game Bird is luxuriously furnished with plush velvet banquettes, original Edwardian panelling on the walls and an elegant centrally-placed small bar should you decide to enjoy a pre-prandial drink.
Perusing the menu, the Game Bird – as its name suggests – focuses on British game, fish and meat. Carved smoked salmon from the trolley is a restaurant tradition. Over a glass of 2013 Argentinian Malbec, I alighted on the dressed crab whilst my guest decided on the vegetarian menu and opted to start with Isle of Wight tomato with toasted almonds and dill. My crab meat was pre-mixed with mayonnaise and dressed with a small amount of grated boiled egg, this meant the delicate flavour of fresh crab was diluted. Whilst grated boiled egg is one of the traditional manners of serving dressed crab, personally I am not a fan; crab meat needs to stand alone with minimal support. My guest’s tomatoes were juicy but she felt it needed something more than just dill to give the dish bite; excess juices in the dish made for a somewhat slushy dish rather than a crisp, well-dressed salad.
Moving on to the main course, I plumped for the treacle cured venison loin with wild mushrooms and blackberries. This was a much better dish, the venison a delight, rich and gamey with the blackberries offering a lovely tart edge harmonising with the meat and the mushed potato smooth and creamy. The Spiced and Josper Roasted Roasted English Cauliflower with apple and walnuts my guest opted for came overcooked, the cauliflower soft and lacking crunch. As my guest pointed out, too many times establishments ignore or overcook the vegetarian option when different textures are critical in such dishes, she also again felt the dish was extremely bland – the flavour needed lifting with something more pungent.
Retiring to our room, my guest and I enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep. The room was dark, the curtains efficiently allowing no light pollution in to disturb us. The beds were softer than I am used to, despite this I found them supportive. Descending to the Game Bird again for breakfast, we were confronted with a comprehensive buffet selection of pastries, cereals, mueslis, hams and cheeses. The English breakfast in inclusive in the room rate and the bacon I can report is quite delicious. Due to the restaurant’s size, it is a relaxing way to begin the day – reinforcing its reputation as a discreet hideaway for working breakfasts, I noted Mayfair finance getting down to business on several tables around us.
You don’t come to the Stafford for celeb glamour and ostentation; this is a discreet establishment for those who are looking for unstated English charm, excellent service and comfort. On this occasion, I can’t escape the sense of being underwhelmed by the Game Bird restaurant, but the rooms are good and the American Bar remains legendary and one of the best hotel bars in London.