In Review

St James’s Hotel & Club Mayfair review

Enjoy William Drabble’s Michelin-starred food in a truly historic setting

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Sir Winston Churchill relaxed there, Henry James popped in to pick up English colloquialisms, while more recently Alice Cooper has swung by to, well, the mind boggles.

With a long and diverse list of celebrity guests and a history dating back to 1857, the St James’s Hotel & Club offers attractions aplenty, but when The Week Portfolio checks in just one thing is on our minds – the food.

Located in a cosy cul-de-sac in the heart of Mayfair, this bijou boutique hotel is home to multi-award-winning restaurant Seven Park Place, run by chef extraordinaire William Drabble. Having landed a Michelin star just a year after opening, as well as four AA Rosettes, the restaurant alone is reason enough to book an overnight stay here. But as my companion and I quickly discover, that is by no means the only draw.

Set in a Victorian townhouse just around the corner from Green Park, the St James’s began life at a different London premises as a club for travelling diplomats, and counted Churchill, James and Ian Fleming among its members.

Today, it blends that feel of a private members’ club with the sheer luxury of a boutique hotel, a winning combination that has attracted celebrity guests ranging from Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford to Cher and Keith Richards. And of course, Cooper.

Such artistic types no doubt appreciate the hotel’s impressive Rosenstein Collection – comprising more than 450 European artworks from the 1900s – which is displayed to maximum effect in the wood-­­panelled corridors and plush public spaces with a decor of rich purples and yellows.  

We decide to turn our hands to artistry of a different sort, signing up for a private chocolate masterclass – one of many special experiences offered at the St James’s. 

Guided by the mercifully patient head pastry chef Steve James, and with a glass of bubbly to get our creative juices flowing, we use obscene amounts of melted Valrhona chocolate and other equally decadent ingredients to whip up three types of truffles: first, salted caramel ganache balls, then a passion fruit-infused white chocolate version, followed by a Champagne chocolate variety.

In between creating his own culinary masterpieces, Drabble finds time to stop by to say hello and collect the dirty dishes (who says head chefs are divas?). His presence acts as a much-needed reminder to resist our chocolate cravings and save our appetites for his, rather more expertly crafted, signature dishes.

With just nine tables, securing a spot at Seven Park Place may not be easy, but any wait is more than worth it. That said, there’s nothing wrong with instant gratification, so we bag a space at the hotel’s more informal William’s Bar & Bistro, where the same evening menu is served by attentive and knowledgeable staff.

Like stepping back into the 1920s, William’s is stuffed with sumptuous velvet and leather banquette seating, and soundtracked with a selection of swing jazz tunes and old-style crooners. Confronted with a mind-boggling selection of gins and whisky, we opt instead for the 1857 Signature Cocktail, a zesty, pineappley concoction that packs a punch.

Suitably refreshed, we turn our attention to the French-influenced food menu. Each dish deserves a mention but if any should be singled out, it’s Drabble’s trademark starter of poached lobster tail with cauliflower purée and lobster butter – a simple-sounding combo that maxes out the various flavours and textures of the top-notch ingredients.

For mains, my griddled fillet of turbot is melt-in-the-mouth tender and perfectly balanced by the earthy flavours of roasted cepes, while my companion’s saddle of Lune Valley lamb is served so rare it looks ready to skip off the plate (he assures me that’s a very good thing).

Earning the establishment yet more brownie points, the lovely sommelier barely flinches when I request red wine to accompany my fishy feast, and rises to the occasion by recommending a wonderful syrah.

This full-bodied, fruity red sees us through to dessert, when the star of the show is surely the bramley apple mousse served inside an apple-shaped (and coloured) chocolately shell that definitely doesn’t count as one of your five a day.

By now equally apple shaped, we down cutlery and trundle up to bed. Each of the hotel’s 60 bedrooms is a lesson in understated luxury, with Murano glass chandeliers, silk wallpapers in muted tones and black lacquered furniture – and importantly, beds big enough to accommodate even the most overindulgent of diners, and then some.

There are also plenty of hi-tech gadgets, including a handy smartphone loaded with city guide apps and an espresso maker that may prove very welcome come morning.

We down a fair few shots of caffeine after waking the next day, before heading down to William’s Bar & Bistro for the final meal of our culinary minibreak.

Drabble excels yet again with his breakfast menu, which includes all the classic English and continental options, plus a new selection of vegan dishes including quinoa chia porridge and a chickpea shakshuka (a North African tomato-based stew).

Perusing the morning papers over pastries, it seems to me that Churchill and co. would still approve of their old club if they were around today.

Double rooms from £520, excluding breakfast. 7-8 Park Place, Westminster, London, SW1A 1LP; 0207 316 1600; stjameshotelandclub.com

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