Hidden away in a peaceful courtyard in the heart of bustling Mayfair is a truly legendary hotel that takes you back in time, delivering nostalgic British style, impeccable service and gracious hospitality, a hotel synonymous with a golden era of decadence.
Dukes Hotel sits quietly in the westerly backwater of St James, a calm oasis in contrast to the hustle and bustle of this prestigious part of London. In fact, the historical courtyard has been traced back to 1532 when King Henry VIII built St. James’s Palace as a hunting lodge as a refuge from the feckless court life gossip of Whitehall. Apparently an ideal setting for Henry’s secret meetings, with his soon to be second wife, Anne Boleyn.
It’s refreshing, that in our contemporary world favouring modernism and minimalism, venues like Dukes still offer a truly beguiling experience that is authentic and nostalgic.
Dukes Hotel stands proud and firm in its gracious heritage and provenance. Like the blue-blooded aristocratic and society guests that have frequented the hotel for decades, the hotel is a thoroughbred of its kind and doesn’t apologise for its more traditional establishment feel.
This seamless blend of two Victorian townhouses (as of 1908) spans an impressive 91 bedrooms, whilst preserving its throne in the then power seat of London. Fortunately it retains many of the quaint if rather quirky ‘private house’ features including lower door handles and locks that originally allowed servants to enter a room whilst curtseying. In addition there arel corridors on the lower floors that are wider than the upper floors to allow for the Victorian ladies voluminous skirts.
The service is consistently ‘old school,’ attentive and humble until you enter the vibrant showpiece, Dukes Bar. This cathedral for cocktails established itself as one of the best bars to experience the iconic Martini thanks to the legends that have payed homage to the place over the years. In the bar, an inundation of regulars who have been enjoying the famous tipple for decades, as well as experienced connoisseurs who want the bragging rights of tasting the ultimate tipple.
The charismatic mixologist Alessandro takes centre stage with his sturdy yet elegant drinks trolley to share the origins and precious ingredients that make up the Vesper Martini.
An intoxicating mix of Vodka, Kina Lillet and Gin, this cocktail first graced the pages of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale in 1953, when Bond seated at the casino in Montenegro orders the now world-famous drink that was named after the double agent and first-ever Bond girl Vesper Lynd.
As the storytelling unfolds there is a quiet hush that seeps through the previously vibrant bar – its guests slightly awestruck by a feeling that by simply sipping on this cocktail, or hearing its history, we are magically woven into the grandeur of Ian Fleming’s majestic fictional world.
Cocktail aficionados the world over have travelled to this Martini mecca for decades to taste its legendary bittersweet taste.
This isn’t just a cocktail, it’s the ultimate cocktail, one that mixes legend and theatre together. We sipped respectfully on the alchemy of its provenance and savoured the moment acknowledging its powerful position as one of the greatest bastions of British historical and literary reference.
We then headed to supper at GBR ( Great British Restaurant of course) the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant. An elegant yet unstuffy space which is an eclectic mix of gastropub merged with bouji mirrored nightclub with monochromatic touches including inspiring black-and-white 50’s images and a granite-topped bar for cocktails.
Norfolk born executive head chef, Nigel Mendham, is the driving force and delivers on the promise of its name by offering hearty portions of traditional British comfort food. His back to British roots approach is blended with a contemporary twist that is honest, nostalgic and perfectly reflects the essence of Dukes. Where better to hunker down and relish the delights of classic dishes like a Lancashire Hot Pot Pie or Chicken & Leek Pie.
The wine list is confident and yet understated and thankfully not overbearing in its choices, but ranges from the hotel’s own house wine – an affordable and unpretentious Paul Mas Valmont Languedoc – to the expected Cristal, Louis Roederer for those moments that really matter.
We chose the grilled seabass with charred asparagus which was simple perfection and a fillet steak served with a red wine jus that has to be one of the most tender mouth moments my guest can remember. Denora, our waitress, epitomised the attentive service that is apparent throughout the hotel. The added layer is a depth of pride in the team that I haven’t experienced for some time – a genuine pleasure and graciousness at welcoming guests to Dukes.
My only slight niggle was the space felt rather too warm and when we asked if there was any air conditioning or if we could open a window sadly neither was possible.
Thankfully we could escape to take a nightcap in the elegant drawing room, a frequently treasured place of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was a regular afternoon tea guest who adored the hospitality and homely feel of Dukes.
Our bedroom was the rather illustrious sounding Duke of Grafton Suite grand, traditional room with a large separate lounge and delicate marble bathroom. Whilst it has everything you need, the facilities are not state-of-the-art. For me this is part of the charm of this grande dame of a hotel – it transports you to another time but don’t expect the latest air conditioning or all mod cons – if that’s what rings your bell this may not be for you.
What this hotel lacks in modernity it makes up for in pure chic genteel service coupled with an innovative approach to deliver a truly personal stay. This includes the Duke Hotel Picnic.
This dambuster of an idea was created during the recent pandemic, allowing couples, friends and family to get together and enjoy a sumptuous picnic in beautiful St James’s Park. It’s an absolute delight and now a firm favourite with hotel guests, day-trippers to London, or gatherings of colleagues and friends looking for something really special.
The picnic can either be collected or the team will deliver it to the park and help you layout your feast. The gorgeous little wicker hamper is brimming with the finest selection of British picnic essentials with highlights including smoky BBQ chicken brochettes, artisan breads, beetroot & feta hummus, pea guacamole, a selection of salads and cheeses and of course some sweet treats. If you really want a special treat you can order their Perrier-Jouët Picnic and for those dog lovers, you can even order a picnic for your pooch.
In a year when we are celebrating the very best of British thanks to our Platinum Jubilee this truly is the very best in class.
Dukes Hotel is one of a kind, a proud stately gentleman of a hotel. One that shines brightly as a confident pillar of what is great and good of a by-gone era but also our Great British establishment. Whilst its historic guest list may read more like something from Debrett’s, it is still as relevant today as a precious example and standard of gracious hospitality as it was back in the day.
I salute you Dukes Hotel.
Dukes Hotel www.dukeshotel.com
Rooms start from £ 233 inclusive of VAT per night.