"It’s not just about the food, it’s about an all-round experience," says James Durrant, executive chef of The Stafford in St James’s Place. Under his helm, the gracious, 1912-established hotel is relaunching its restaurant early this year as The Game Bird, featuring quintessential British fare with modern twists such as oysters, game and pies.
Since his arrival in September 2016, Durrant has been fascinated with the hotel’s history. The Game Bird is named after Nancy Wake, a resistance fighter who frequented the hotel’s American Bar during the second world war, along with US and Canadian officers who took refuge from air raids in the cellars.
Durrant honed his craft in the kitchens of Gordon Ramsay, Claridge’s and Jason Atherton at Maze before notching up a Michelin Bib Gourmand at his Hampshire pub, The Plough Inn. “I enjoy eating," says Durrant, “and try to pass my passion on to everyone I come into contact with."
In the newly transformed restaurant, Durrant’s British Isles Oyster Menu will include oysters from Jersey, Colchester, Dungarvan and Lindisfarne. An elegant trolley of smoked salmon, cured fish and caviar will be presented to guests at their table. Expect excellent game in season, such as deer tartare and stewed wood pigeon. Traditional pies, stews and Sunday lunches also feature. Cheese is an important part of Durrant’s concept and he readily admits to a weakness for Stinking Bishop from nearby Paxton & Whitfield.
For a preprandial drink, the American Bar is certainly worth a visit. It is decorated with the autographed photographs of patrons from Bill Wyman to the skier Jean-Claude Killy and crowned heads of Europe. The centuries-old cellars, accessed by steep stone stairs, hold up to 8,000 bottles of wine and champagne, including a 1927 Taylors Port (£600) and a few precious bottles of Mouton Rothschild 1982 at £4,000 – a bargain according to cellar master John Heaney.