If it’s good enough for Ian Fleming, it’s good enough for us
When you read or hear the words “A martini, shaken, not stirred” you instantly know the famous phrase was uttered by James Bond.
And the sentence, first said by Sir Sean Connery’s Bond in the film Goldfinger, was likely dreamed up in the bar of Dukes Hotel in London which was author Ian Fleming’s favourite watering hole in the city.
In fact drinking martinis in the hotel bar has become so significant to Bond culture that the bar and hotel is a mecca for fans of the 007 book and movie franchise. With the release of the latest Bond film, No Time To Die, we thought there was no better time to check it out.
The bar now specialises in magnificent martinis James Bond would most definitely approve of. They are so good that the New York Times described them as “one of the world’s best”.
It is such a discreet bar (it can be found behind a small, unmarked door) it is little wonder that it has become a favourite of many famous faces from the world of TV, music and royalty. In fact the day I was there a well-known morning TV presenter was enjoying a few martinis.
While there, don’t expect music or TV. This is a bar where the drink does the talking and where conversation flows. While seated at your small round table you will undoubtedly spend much time considering the old portraits and paintings hanging on the walls. You could just imagine Ian Fleming dreaming up Bond plots while sitting there.
As you would expect the art of making the martini is very theatrical. After you order, a bartender dressed in a white jacket and black tie comes to your table with a small wooden cart containing all the ingredients and he will create the cocktail in front of you.
The martinis are strong (they can contain several shots of alcohol) but they don’t taste as strong as you would expect, partly due to being served in a -20c glass. I particularly recommend the Vesper Martini, a version of which can be found in the 1953 Bond book, Casino Royale. At around £20, the drink actually does represent good value for money due to the location, the showmanship and the volume of alcohol. Little wonder staff advise guests of a two-drink per person maximum.
While the bar may be one for the bucket-list, Dukes Hotel has so much more to see and do. The hotel, which dates back to 1908, is a stone’s throw from St James’s Palace, which contains the London residences of the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, and has been a favourite for many members of the royal family, including the Queen Mother and Princess Diana, who had a small table in the drawing room permanently reserved for her.
Last week Princess Eugenie’s husband, Jack Brooksbank, reportedly revealed there is a secret tunnel linking the hotel bar and palace.
I did get slightly lost trying to find the hotel as it is tucked away in a lovely little cul-de-sac off St James’s Palace, just five minutes’ walk from Green Park tube station.
Ever since King Henry XIII built his palace at St James’ in the 16th century, the district has been the exclusive retreat of writers, musicians, politicians and royalty and Dukes successfully blends quintessential British charm and cosmopolitan luxury.
Make sure to check out the 90-room hotel’s most Instagrammed location — its original wood-panelled lift complete with soft seating.
We dined in GBR (Great British Restaurant) which is overseen by Norfolk-born executive head chef Nigel and has a menu featuring traditional British dishes with a contemporary twist including Fish Pie, Shepherd’s Pie, Lancashire Hotpot, Steak & Kidney Pudding and Butternut Squash with spinach, cheese and walnuts. Other classic British dishes include Cullen Skink, River Fowey mussels and Blackbrow Pork.
I tried the Shepherd’s Pie, which incorporates lamb cutlets, and it was hands down the best interpretation of this I have ever tasted. Other dishes we tried which were equally excellent were British grains from Hodmedod’s in Suffolk (risotto with charred leeks and chestnut mushroom broth) and Monkfish scampi in curious beer batter. We finished with a selection of cheeses from Paxton & Whitfield which were all superb.
Special mention must go to the man who brought all the food to life, our waiter Marlon, and offered the best and friendliest service I have ever experienced. Anyone who wants to be at the top of their game in the service industry could learn so much from him.
He or other staff members can also arrange picnics for you in Green Park and St James’s Park. The hotel has launched a partnership with Perrier-Jouët champagne that takes its iconic picnics to a new level. All Dukes’ picnics include a plush rug and wicker hamper with food offerings including smoky BBQ chicken brochettes, artisan breads, beetroot and feta hummus, pea guacamole, a selection of salads and cheeses and, of course, some sweet treats.
As well as choosing an after dinner martini in the bar you can avail of the hotel’s Cognac & Cigar garden which features antique mirrors and is lit by fairy lights. It has a wooden cabinet filled with different bottles of Remy Martin Cognac and an extensive selection of cigars.
After all that you will definitely need a lie down and the rooms at Dukes, which showcase their timeless heritage and style and have some of the most comfortable beds, offer a perfect retreat.
Classically and elegantly decorated, the bathrooms, with their rain shower and marble tiling, include complimentary luxurious toiletries from Floris, a royal family favourite since 1730. Also ensure to try out the extremely cosy Turkish cotton bathrobe.
If you are feeling more energetic the Private Members Health Club features an Italian marble steam room, a modern gym and the latest Techno gym equipment. After a great night’s sleep I ventured a little further into Mayfair to try out a restaurant that for all foodies should be a must-do booking — Ormer Mayfair. The food I had there rates as one of my best ever meals and that is no exaggeration.
Located within Flemings Mayfair hotel and under the direction of the excellent executive chef Sofian Msetfi, the 1930s-inspired restaurant and its adjoining bar (try the Negronis post-dinner) are a beautiful space.
Sofian’s passion for British ingredients shine through on the menu and Aga and her front of house team are so welcoming and knowledgeable about the food being served.
Signature dishes include warm Ibérico ham jelly with Parmesan, Bramley apple and nasturtium; poached native lobster with Isle of Wight tomato, pine nut and basil, BBQ Norfolk quail with sweetcorn, pineapple and girolles, roast squab of pigeon with beetroot, cumin and rose water caramel, Kentish strawberries with kefir and extra virgin olive oil and Abinao and tapioca tart with Pedro Ximénez Sherry and salted milk sorbet.
A wine pairing menu is also available with the drinks chosen to complement Sofian’s food by the restaurant’s skilled sommelier. They all accompanied each dish perfectly. Diners can finish their tasting experience by selecting a plate of British cheeses from the new dedicated trolley.
No words could really do justice to how amazing this food is but my highlights were the Ibérico ham jelly dish (which admittedly is not usually a dish I would be bowled over by), the lobster course and the strawberries. The skill in the kitchen and attention to detail and how each and every flavour and ingredient worked together was astounding. I intend to return on my next visit to London when the dishes will have changed yet again due to the seasonality of the ingredients.
It was little surprise to me to find out later that Ormer has been voted one of the top five restaurants in London by the Hardens Restaurant Guide and is consistently rated as one of the top 10 restaurants in London for Fine Dining on TripAdvisor.
To walk off all those excellently earned extra calories we made our way to the London Eye, located at the side of the River Thames. Despite being one of the city’s most recognisable attractions I have never been on the 135m structure, which is the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.
Make sure to book tickets in advance to ensure your space and expect breathtaking 360-degree views of London’s skyline and its famous landmarks. No wonder it has been the number one visitor experience in the city for the past decade.
It too has a starring role in the new Bond film with shots of it used while the action takes place in the city.
If you fancy trying something a little different it has launched a new Pub Pod which has been kitted out top to bottom as a functional bar.
I will raise a glass to that.
Nightly rates at Dukes start from £233 inclusive of VAT and
breakfast. For more information please call 020 7491 4840 or visit www.dukeshotel.com.
Ormer Mayfair — Flemings Mayfair, 7-12 Half Moon Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 7BH.
Tel: 0207 016 5601 or check out www.flemings-mayfair.co.uk/fine-dining-london/ormer-mayfair-restaurant
London Eye — The London Eye is open to visitors from 11am to 6pm every day. Advance purchase tickets are available from £24.50.
For further ticket options and information please visit: www.londoneye.com
The Pub Pod experience is available to book on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12pm-6pm, with tickets costing £55pp.
Due to reduced capacities, pre-booking is required, and bookings must have a minimum of two guests and a maximum of five guests (all guests must be 18+).
The experience will last for one 30-minute rotation and includes two drinks of choice from an exclusive menu, with a souvenir enamel Beefeater cup to take away at the end.
For more information, prices and to book tickets, go to: www.londoneye.com/pubpod