You could be forgiven for making a snap judgement about The Stafford, lumping it in with the prevailing breed of stuffy St James’s gentleman’s clubs that are only frequented by rotund, ruddy-cheeked men of a certain political persuasion.
But, you’d be wrong. True, this West End hotel is thoroughly old school – but in the best possible way. It’s elegant, discreet and takes pride in offering guests who appreciate timeless British luxury a ‘home away from home’. It’s got the pedigree to back this up, too. It’s been independently owned since it opened in 1912, and has played host to the likes of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, who stayed following their wedding in 1981.
Another highlight is its American Bar, one of few bars now remaining in the capital that are true ‘American Bars’ – a series of high-end watering holes that opened during the European craze for US-inspired cocktail culture in the 1920s. In fact, the bar’s just had a makeover, and the hotel’s new Culinary Director, Ben Tish, has concocted a new menu to go with it.
The new space feels considerably fresher than it did, but not to the exclusion of the hotel’s traditional character. Created by Rosendale Design, a lengthy marble bar is backed by mahogany panelled walls, dark green leather upholstery and polished brass fittings. The bar’s filled with curiosities left by famous former guests, and photographs of famous patrons from yesteryear line the walls.
It’s a comforting place to drink, and bar manager Benoit Provost (who’s served the hotel for over 25 years), is just what one hopes for in a host – elegant, polished, gentle. Pay the bar a visit and you can drink anything you’d like (the bartenders will mix any classic you’d care to order), but there’s also a new signature drinks menu – 12 creations inspired by the St James’s area.
The Godolphin, for example, is an intriguing mix of Woodford Reserve, red wine infused with berries and cinnamon, lemon juice and egg white, inspired by nefarious rake, Francis Godolphin. The QM combines Tanqueray No. Ten, Brillet pear liqueur, Bénédictine and Dubonnet – inspired by the chosen tipple of the Queen Mother, a long-time patron of the American Bar. The White Mouse was another highlight – essentially a French 75 with an edge, served in a huge vintage coupe glass with a smooth, complex flavour that blends booze, citrus and a touch of sweetness beautifully.
The food isn’t supposed to be the main event, but it is scrumptious nontheless. Although the menu’s billed as a collection of bar snacks, it more than stands up to an evening meal – and like the bar itself, mixes contemporary touches with a satisfyingly old school approach. Huge stuffed Gordal olives come in a little quartet with goat’s curd, juicy orange segments and pistachio (a deliciously retro combo), while the crab stuffed doughnuts are both quirky and clever, and the Padron peppers, crispy baby squids, Iberico pork skewers and spring pea croquettes are all similarly satisfying.
It must be said that all these treats don’t come cheap; cocktails kick-off at a cool £19.50, and the sharing plates add up quickly, but if you pick a corner and curl up with a friend or colleague after work, it’s well worth the treat. The Stafford absolutely charmed me, and in its new form has earned its place as one of the best hotel bars in the West End.