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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Afternoon Tea at Dukes

Dukes Bar for Martini

Perrier-Jouët Champagne Lounge

Thirty Six at Dukes Hotel

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Hotel Reviews
- Dukes

On this page:

Afternoon Tea at Dukes

Dukes Bar for Martini

Perrier-Jouët Champagne Lounge

Thirty Six at Dukes Hotel

Dukes Hotel Bar for Martini

     “The hotel bar which some say concocts one of the world’s best Martinis” - New York Times

london restaurant review

There are many great hotels in London. There is a host of memorable boutique hotels in London. There are several with stylish bars in London. There is only one Dukes Bar in the whole world.

One finds Dukes Hotel tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet side street in St James’s. It has the best of addresses, nestled between St James’s Palace and Piccadilly. It’s a beauty in red brick. It’s an icon of period architecture, and even a first glimpse will encourage the visitor to expect something special within; they won’t be disappointed.

The doorman will usher you into a surprisingly small bar. One might expect a venue with such a reputation to be the size of an aircraft hanger, a well-appointed aircraft hanger, admittedly. No, Dukes Bar is bijou, intimate and timeless with dark wood and charcoal-grey upholstery. The bar is well-stocked but it’s the goods on that unique trolley that will focus the mind of all serious Martini aficionados.

London restaurant review One takes a seat (best to reserve) and peruses the extensive menu of classic cocktails, but it would be a gross oversight to order anything, at least on the inaugural visit, other than a Martini – and the tutored will want to try the Vesper Martini. Shortly you will be joined by a barman in a white linen jacket and if you are blessed it will be Alessandro Palazzi who, in his field, is as celebrated as the hotel itself.

This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny first drew breath at the stock exchange?  Was Dr No inspired by a dodgy practice in Harley Street?

Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request, 'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken. That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol! The aforementioned trolley will park next to your table and it’s a chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.

Those glasses are standard for this libation in all its delicious chilled guises. The distinctive design is said to have developed to allow the drinker to hold a stem rather than the bowl of the glass, keeping the beverage at the lowest temperature for the longest time. The cone is thought to give the optimum surface area to encourage the maximum bouquet from the spirits and to prevent the ingredients from separating as the drink rests; and this is a cocktail to be savoured rather than gulped.

Alessandro mixes several hundred martinis each night so he has a practised eye and a deft hand. A speciality is that signature ‘Vesper’. No, dear illiterate reader, that isn’t a reference to the nifty Italian motor scooter but obliquely to the time of day – it’s Latin for evening – and absolutely in homage to Vesper Lynd, a character featured in Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale. The Vesper Martini gained popularity after the novel's publication, and gave rise to the famous ‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase immortalised in every James Bond film thereafter. The actual name for the drink, and the recipe, is mentioned on-screen for the first time in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale.

The Vesper is a heady melange of No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lillet Blanc, Angostura bitters, and Potocki vodka. This is a Polish vodka, in keeping with the Iron Curtain-swishing heroes of Fleming’s alter-universe. The dry vermouth is brewed exclusively for Duke’s by Sacred Microdistillery on a residential street in Highgate, a north London neighbourhood. Ian Fleming was evidently a skilled practitioner of the art of tippling and we are the lucky recipients of both his dedicated study and the charm of Alessandro Palazzi. (Interview to follow).

Bar opening times:
Monday to Saturday - 2pm to 11pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays - 4pm to 10.30pm

Dukes Hotel & Bar
St. James's Place
London SW1A 1NY

Phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)20 7493 1264
For further information and reservations phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Visit Dukes Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Thirty Six at Dukes Hotel

london restaurant review Think about Old London and what scene comes to mind? Fog, intertwined alleys and hidden courtyards, probably. Iron railings, warm brick, brass plaques. And hotels: yes, every Edwardian writer seemed to talk about hotels. They were the acceptable places in which to meet friends and to dine, when restaurants were less numerous than they are today. But those hotels must surely have been swept aside by samey modernity, by cold grey cement and sheets of plate glass.

Well, the fog has gone, but Dukes is still standing and still sports those classic features, and it overlooks its own courtyard behind St James’s Place, off St James’s Street. It was opened in 1908 although the courtyard dates from the 1500s, and the hotel still retains that authentic air of class and propriety, although this is far from a starchy establishment. It’s celebrated for its Martini Bar and for mixing the original James Bond cocktail – shaken, not stirred – and the Champagne Bar is a cosy retreat from the throng of Mayfair.

Thirty Six is Dukes’ restaurant and was opened in September 2011. It has contemporary grey walls but it fits well with the traditional feel of the hotel as the architectural features have been retained, the tables are well-spaced, the upholstered chairs are in muted terracotta and there are dramatic black accents from lampshades. The silver chargers and classic cutlery have hand-made colour-marbled glasses as a striking counterpoint.

Chef Nigel Mendham offers British cuisine but with all the charm and flair that one would expect across the Channel. His menu takes advantage of seasonal British ingredients and a lot of imagination. The descriptions hardly do justice to that with which you will be served. Nigel seems to add value at every turn with a demitasse of soup here, some savoury spoon bites there, a pre-dessert when one thinks it is almost over, and then there are decadent petit fours to round off the extraordinary event.

london restaurant review Red Mullet and ‘All things Nicoise’ was my choice of starter and the reality exceeded my expectations, which ran along the lines of a bit o’ fish atop a French salad. The mullet was the best I have tasted, being moist and flavourful with a crispy skin which adds so much to the dish. The ‘Nicoise’ elements were little vignettes of the eponymous salad and were indispensible ‘sides’ to the mullet.

Rare-breed Pork braised Cheek, Langoustine and Granny Smith Apple was my guest’s starter. Offal and those previously discarded cuts of meat are appreciated these days although they often need greater care in preparation and cooking, but it’s worth that effort. Nigel has combined deliciously savoury pork with delicate langoustines, and apples have always been a partner to porcine products. My companion was delighted with his elevated ‘surf and turf’.

london restaurant review Goosnargh Duck, Sweet Potato, Chestnuts, Duck Samosa and Charred Sprouts was my main course and it was substantial. The duck was presented medium-rare and it was perfect – pink and tender. The miniature samosa and turned potatoes added texture and sweetness to the tapestry. The sprouts were going to be my nemesis but they were a revelation. The charring gave flavour and the vibrant green vegetables still had bite; there was no hint of that unpleasant sprouty taste that has spoilt many a decent Christmas dinner.

John Dory, Aubergine, Spiced Mussels with Herb Quinoa took the fancy of my guest. This was a wonderfully attractive plate of yellow hues. The fish was mild and simply grilled, the aubergines were tender and smoky and the quinoa was nutty and well-textured, and an inspired accompaniment. It’s an ancient grain that is becoming more popular, although it has been appreciated in South America for thousands of years.

london restaurant review Pear Savarin, Poached Pear, Almond Custard and Pear Sorbet was my guest’s dessert – or more accurately his dessert served with two spoons. Savarin is a yeast-sponge cake that one often finds in the guise of over-sweet and sticky Rum Baba, but Nigel offers this cake as a lightly soaked confection that didn’t upstage the fruit. The poached pears had distinct flavour and the sorbet was refreshing. That extra spoon made impressive in-roads into the dessert.

Chef Nigel Mendham (interview shortly) has a marvellous stage for his very evident talents. Dukes has been famed for its Martini Bar and it’s no surprise that this restaurant, Thirty Six, offers commensurate quality. It’s a joy!

Dukes Hotel
St. James’s Place
London SW1A 1NY

Phone: +44 (0)207 491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)207 493 1264

Visit Dukes Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Afternoon Tea at Dukes

london restaurant review Dukes boutique hotel is tucked away in a quiet courtyard in London’s stylish St James’s.  It was the winner of "England’s Leading Boutique Hotel" at the World Travel Awards 2011 and it’s no surprise. Whilst its salubrious location is part of the charm it still stands apart from much of the local competition. It has quality in every gleaming fingerplate, every vase of fragrant blooms and every reflection in polished dark wood. It’s been enjoyed for over a century by those who expect and appreciate good taste in both furnishings and food.

Afternoon Tea here is a classic affair. The Lounge offers a quiet idyll, a comfy mix of contemporary seats and sofas with prints and paintings, and intimate nooks in which to unwind. Perhaps this is the most ideal spot for quiet conversation. It’s not a stuffy lounge with silent waiters in squeaky shoes but rather a place to pause the day and recharge batteries. We settled in a corner with a view over the Cognac and Cigar Garden. This is a covered court with couches on which to recline while puffing a fragrant Havana after dinner. It’s open from 8pm.

Afternoon Tea at Dukes is traditional and substantial. Overseas visitors might appreciate some advice about an English teatime. If one is only slightly peckish after a good lunch then perhaps a Cream Tea would be in order at 3pm. This consists of scones, clotted cream and jam. A Devon native will have a slightly different order of application than one from Cornwall. An inhabitant of one of these counties puts the cream onto the scone first and the jam second, and vice versa, but I can never remember who does what. Be assured that your scones will be delicious spread in either fashion.

Clotted cream is another mystery. The name suggests something lumpy and unappetising but the reality is rich and memorable. Clotted cream (sometimes called Devonshire cream) is thick, yellow and made by heating full-cream cow's milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving the milk in a shallow dish to cool slowly. The cream rises to the surface and forms a thick layer. Cornish clotted cream was given a Protected Designation of Origin in 1998 by European Union directive, as long as the milk is produced in Cornwall and the minimum fat content is 55%; so leave your diet at the door.

london restaurant review A full Afternoon Tea includes that aforementioned cream tea but also savoury sandwiches and other sweet treats and traditional cakes. The Dukes’ tea arrives, as do most other hotel or restaurant teas, on the 3-tier stand. The top plate offers a selection that would have been familiar to Victorians. They would have enjoyed those toasted teacakes, warm scones and slices of fruit cake just as you will. Teatime is about continuity.

The middle plate is the savoury layer of filled sandwiches. There are a lot of sweet temptations on a tea-stand so those salty diversions will help you stay the course. This isn’t a snack to be rushed. An Afternoon Tea worth its name is a hearty meal and one over which to linger. We enjoyed finger sandwiches, naturally sans crusts, filled with ham, beef, salmon or cream cheese and these, we were told, would be replenished on request.

The lowest layer will be the one you will have had your gaze fixed upon since its arrival. This is a plate of fancies and all made in Dukes’ kitchen: miniature chocolate éclairs, Madelines, brownies, and a chef’s special that changes with the season and is mostly fresh fruit-based. The pièce de résistance was the individual lemon meringue pies. They looked almost too good to eat ...almost. The case was light and delicate, the filling tangy and fresh and the topping was soft Italian meringue that was deftly torched around the swirls.

london restaurant review You will obviously want tea with your Tea and there is a good selection from which to choose.  I always enjoy Earl Grey on such occasions as the citrus hint of bergamot works as a foil to the sweetness of the pastries. It’s a tea to take without milk for it to be truly refreshing.

Dukes is a hotel with an unsurpassed reputation for class. It offers the discerning guest a tranquil oasis in the centre of London and just a short distance from all of the best that the capital has to offer. It’s appreciated by tourists and locals, and its timeless quality is prized by all.

Afternoon Tea available daily from 3pm-5.30pm
DUKES Champagne Afternoon Tea £34.50
    A glass of Champagne
    Selection of finger sandwiches
    Assorted cakes and pastries
    Traditional fruit cake
    Warm fruit scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam
    All served with your choice of tea

DUKES Afternoon Tea £24.50
    All of the above without the glass of Champagne

    Champagne by the glass £12.00
    Selection of finger sandwich £10.25
    Warm fruit scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam £8.50
    Assorted cakes and pastries £6.50
    English fruit cake £6.50

Dukes Hotel
35 St James's Place, London SW1A 1NY
Area: St James's
020 7491 4840
Visit Dukes Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Perrier-Jouët Champagne Lounge at Dukes Hotel

Dukes Hotel is found unobtrusively tucked away in one of London’s most prestigious neighbourhoods. The stunning building graces a quiet corner of St. James’s and is a stone's throw away from Clarence House. In fact the site can trace its history back to 1532, and around the 1660s the courtyard in front of today's Dukes Hotel was occupied by Barbara Villiers, the Duchess of Cleveland, one of the mistresses of King Charles II. She bore the King three sons, who were all dukes. I don’t know if that’s where the hotel got its name from, but it’s a nice notion.

London restaurant review The courtyard was known as Cleveland Court and the two buildings within formed a small hostelry. These were demolished in 1885 and replaced with the present building, which originally housed London lodgings for the sons of Britain's nobility, until it became Dukes Hotel in 1908.

The hotel is thriving today and can boast an illustrious past, with such worthies as Sir Edward Elgar (composer of Pomp and Circumstance Marches) who always stayed at Dukes when in London. Also Ian Fleming was a frequent visitor to the celebrated Dukes Bar. It’s rumoured that it’s that very bar which gave him the inspiration for the famous James Bond Martini: “shaken, not stirred.” There will be more about that iconic bar in a future article here.

2011 marks the 200th anniversary of the House of Champagne Perrier-Jouët. The hotel has marked this occasion by opening its own Perrier-Jouët Lounge. This intimate yet striking space is located next to the dining room and is the perfect venue for a pre-dinner glass of champagne, or just for a very smart but accessible glass of fizz at any time.

Perrier-Jouët is a respected Champagne producer based in the Épernay region of France. The company was founded in 1811 by Pierre-Nicolas-Marie Perrier-Jouët. They produce approximately 3,000,000 bottles of vintage and non-vintage cuvée annually and their prestige label is called Belle Époque.The style of that era was christened Art Nouveau with its floral and organic motifs.

The Perrier-Jouët Lounge serves a full range of Champagnes including the classic Belle Époque, Belle Époque Rosé and the rare Belle Époque Blanc de Blanc. The house champagne is Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV which is available by the glass. There is a selection of five Champagne cocktails including ‘The Dukes Classic’; and ‘The Flower of Champagne’ with rose vodka and Lillet, garnished with a rose petal. I can highly recommend this delicate cocktail. Perhaps it’s one for the ladies as it has a distinct flowery note, reminiscent of Turkish Delight.

London restaurant review The lounge has been designed by Shaun Clarkson and boasts a stunning hand-stitched carpet featuring the Perrier-Jouët emblem of anemone; a symbol which also embellishes the bottle of its prestige Belle Époque Champagne.

The walls are contemporary in tones of gold, champagne and muted green. There is a metallic sheen which reflects light from the1940's glass chandelier. A wall of gilt-framed, bevelled-glass mirrors adds to the drama. Modern, vintage and antique elements are married perfectly in this space.

The furniture is bold. The sofas are a modern take on a Chesterfield ...but the longest Chesterfield you have ever seen. The upholstery is a vibrant green with surprising fuchsia accents from a scattering of cushions. The daring colour combination continues even to the glassware: a swag of green foliage and pink blossom decorates each champagne flute. A few other comfy and classic chairs provide cosy seating for couples.

Dukes Hotel truly is a hidden treasure. It’s so high-end that it has Caviar House as its corner shop, yet it contrives to be a warm, friendly and discreet venue for stays in London, as well as providing delicious food for visitors (more on the restaurant in future articles). The Perrier-Jouët Lounge is an excellent addition to Dukes’ battery of facilities.

Dukes Hotel
St. James's Place, London SW1A 1NY
Phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)20 7493 1264
Visit Dukes Hotel here

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