Duke’s Hotel

February 11, 2006

We stayed at Duke’s Hotel in London from February 2 to 7, 2006.  Although we both once knew London quite well, we had not been there in many years and knew little of the St. James’s neighbourhood.   We were looking forward to dukes-1.jpgexperiencing the new London, allegedly a great place to do business and a great place to eat.  We found the first to be true.  The hotel oozes charm; it is on its own little courtyard with flowers and a real gas streetlight.  The service is prompt, efficient and friendly.  We had a comfortable two room suite with appropriately dowdy décor.  It was very quiet except when we turned on the noisy blowers to get some heat.  The shower also had its meandering temperatures and even the television and telephone had problems, but that all fit into the ambiance.  The ordinary rooms on our floor had the same décor, but seemed quite small.  As usual in England, the breakfasts were good, served in our room or in the basement dining room.  One can get an “English Breakfast” with a sausage, ham, bacon, kidney, black pudding, a little mound of sautéed potatoes, eggs, mushrooms and a tomato.  I ate the whole thing one day and skipped lunch.   The hotel is famous for its martinis, served in one of the charming bar rooms or the drawing room.  The two front rooms are frequently dukes-2.jpgredolent of cigar smoke, but the room behind the bar is non-smoking.  The preparation of the martini is a show in itself from a little cart wheeled to your table: a few drops of vermouth put into a frozen martini glass, topped up with a generous dollop of gin or vodka from the freezer and a twist peeled elaborately from a lemon on top.  The martini, like everything else at Dukes, is quite expensive.  But then the only thing in London which did not seem very expensive to us was the public museum admissions, which are free (donation requested.) 

We ate all our meals within a ten minute walk of the hotel.  We did not come away with the impression that London has become a fine culinary centre.  Of course, this was a limited sample and we did not have any Indian cuisine, for which London is known (but that has been true for a long time.)  We did eat at one of the top-five Michelin-rated restaurants in London, the two-star The Square (see separate report.) The Zagats food ratings for the restaurants we went to were:  

The Square                  27
L’Oranger                   26
Le Caprice                  24
Greens                        21
Rowleys                      20
The Wolseley              20 

So our sample represents what people in London consider good and worth paying for.  The last three restaurants are traditionally British and have not greens-restaurant-1.jpgupdated themselves, except that the smoked haddock with mash and a poached egg at Greens is now called “Smoked Haddock Parker-Bowles.”  We had a preview when British Airways served us a cheese and pickle sandwich on stale bread.  The two restaurants with French names were making an effort, but, except for the pumpkin soup with truffles at L’Oranger, just didn’t get it and were not close to the cuisine of restaurants at the same price level in Paris. 

But we really enjoyed walking in St. James’s and Mayfair.  There is a shop for almost anything. 

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