Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cellars, spies and media moguls


The Stafford's mews

The Stafford Hotel featured in many a photograph this summer as a result of Rupert Murdoch, who also has an apartment in St James’s Place, having dinners and meetings there with his son, James, and former chief lieutenant, Rebekah Brooks. At one, on the weekend before his appearance before the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the news tycoon was, I’m reliably informed, subjected to a preparatory murder board.

 Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks walk from his apartment towards The Stafford

One can easily see why Murdoch favours The Stafford. Hidden in a backwater off St James’s Street, this Victorian hotel is discrete and efficiently run. With a history dating back to 1858, The Stafford was purchased by Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group, Kempinski, in 2009 and has been subjected to an impressive refurbishment.

 The Lyttelton restaurant at The Stafford

The most recent improvement has been the opening of a new restaurant, The Lyttleton. The restaurant is named after Lord and Lady Lyttelton, who lived in the building until Lady Lyttelton, daughter of Earl Spencer became nanny to Queen Victoria’s children in 1849.

Decorated in ivory and gray with a flowery carpet, the management describe the style as giving the “feeling of dining in a friend’s home.” I’d agree with Fay Maschler, though, who suggests rather that it is a “well mannered space” but one that sits somewhat at odds with the comfortably cluttered American Bar at the rear of the hotel.

Kempinski hired Lancashire-born Brendan Fyldes to oversee The Lyttelton as Executive Chef in January. Fyldes has a tremendous CV that includes having worked under Nigel Haworth of Northcote Manor, Richard Corrigan at Bentley’s and one of my favourite chefs, Paul Heathcote, at his Longridge restaurant. Fyldes states that his menu offers a “rustic interpretation of British cuisine that emphasises the season’s best local produce and products” and I have to say that his cooking is indeed most impressive. In her review, Maschler describes the menu as being “refreshingly forthright” and with a three-course business lunch menu at £27.50, it is indeed one that needn’t beat the bank.

The Stafford's Executive Chef: Brendan Fyldes

To start my friend commenced with a crab “Officers Mulligatawny” soup (£11.50). Here Fyldes has introduced a little known soup that was favoured by British officers stationed in India in the 1800s that is based on adding curry to broth. I tried the classically dressed English Crab with mayonnaise and lemon (£18.90) and found it most enjoyable.

For mains, I chose a superb grilled Welsh black gold sirloin steak (£25.50) and accompanied this with some superb buttered Chantenay carrots and hand cut chips. My companion found his veal striploin (£24.50) melted in the mouth and to conclude we shared an apple and whiskey crumble (£9) that was sadly a little too tart and a truly excellent mulled wine trifle (£9).

The wine list is as extensive as one would expect in a hotel of this calibre and there are plenty of reasonably priced options as much as there are exotic and expensive options.

The "White Mouse" Nancy Wake sat in The Stafford's American Bar

We subsequently moved through to the American Bar where we concluded with coffee and ginger tea and learnt about Nancy Wake (1912 – 2011), one of Churchill’s most highly decorated special agent’s during the Second World War. Having first visited in 1946, resistance heroine Wake lived in the hotel from 2001 to 2003 and sat daily in the hotel’s American Bar consuming gin and tonics whilst entertaining The Stafford’s clients and staff. This phenomenal lady, who had also interviewed Hitler as a journalist in the 1930s and who the Nazis named the “White Mouse,” now has a corner named after her. Funded by the hotel’s owners and anonymous donors including, allegedly, Prince Charles, Wake’s stay sadly ended when, after a heart attack, she moved to the Royal Star and Garter Home for Disabled Ex-Service Men and Women in Richmond.

 The Stafford's American Bar

The bar itself is truly eccentric and stuffed full of artefacts from the Second World War given by members of the Free French, the American Eagle Squadron and Canadian officers, who used the hotel as club, glasses used by the Royal Family and photographs of Margaret Thatcher, who used to be a regular visitor.

The Stafford's wine cellars

We were subsequently invited to tour the hotel’s charming Carriage House rooms and Mews Suites before descending down into The Stafford’s historic wine cellars. My lunch companion immediately remembered a 21st birthday party he attended there when the hotel was owned by the Costain family and I have to admit that getting to see them was a true privilege. Containing over a $1 million worth of wine and some 20,000 bottles, the cellars were built by Lord Francis Godolphin in the 17th century and now also contain as a museum relating to their use during the war.

The Stafford certainly is a place with a story to tell. If a meal at The Lyttelton is anything to go by, there will be many more great chapters yet.

The Lyttelton at The Stafford London by Kempinski, 16-18 St James’s Place, London, SW1A 1NJ. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7493 0111. Website: http://www.thelyttelton.com


Photography of The Stafford Hotel and The Lyttelton © Kempinski 2011.

2 comments:

Jesse Schulman said...

Terrific piece, as usual, Mr Steeples! As an American, of course I love the American Bar, an archetype of which I would have many happy memories, were only the drinks less strong! LOL The restaurant sounds wonderful and I will find an excuse to try it very soon. Thanks again for the post!

Anonymous said...

You tell this tale in a most brilliant manner. Thank goodness people like you don't just repeat the PR puff that these places no doubt give you. Nancy Wake was an amazing lady and I once had the pleasure of meeting her over a G&T sat in that very bar. It was a highlight of my life. She was a true heroine and they should errect a plaque in her honour or a statue even.