Saturday, 3 December 2011

The meaning of Thirty Six

Dukes, a 90 bedroom hotel hidden in a courtyard off St James’s Street, is a building steeped in history and martinis. Built in 1890 and a hotel since 1908, the bar at Dukes is possibly one of the most famous in the world as it was here than Ian Fleming came up with James Bond’s famous “shaken, not stirred” phrase.

The entrance to Dukes Hotel

Her Majesty the Queen is said to have enjoyed two small martinis and a 1936 Armagnac in a warm glass at Dukes when she attended a private party. Princess Diana visited for tea with friends a day after her divorce and the martinis created by the head barman, Alessandro Palazzi, have been described by the New York Times as “one of the world’s best.” Served straight from the freezer and on a cocktail trolley, the drinks here are the cornerstone of excellence.

 Alessandro Palazzi in the bar at Dukes

Situated at the rear of Dukes, with a separate entrance at 36 Little St James’s Street, is Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham, a 36 seat restaurant that opened in September 2011. The name, the hotel’s website states, supposedly relates to the “solar square” of ancient Western tradition that “represents the sun and warmth” and “good luck” in Chinese astrology. The number also happens to be the size in gallons of a British standard beer barrel and the atomic number of krypton, but sadly neither get a mention. Whilst Douglas Adams equated that “42” answers the question “What is the meaning of life?” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Dukes team plainly have found their answer to be “36.”
The dining room at Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham

Shaun Clarkson is responsible for the decoration at Thirty Six as well as for much of the redesign that Dukes Hotel itself is currently undergoing. His portfolio includes the Cheyne Walk Brasserie, Odette’s, the Pigalle Club and the OXO Tower and at Thirty Six he has focused on tones of black, gold and burnt orange. I personally felt that the restaurant décor was a little lacking in character but it certainly isn’t offensive in any way.

Nigel Mendleham, Thirty Six’s much acclaimed chef, previously earned a Michelin star during his tenure at The Samling in the Lake District and prefers to cook traditionally rather than relying on technology. His menus focus on the very best of British ingredients and combines both classic and modern cuisine.

 Nigel Mendham

Mendham opts to offer a menu of dishes that though small are perfectly formed. This is not a hotel dining room where one can expect hearty portions but the food that we tried, in the main, was of exemplary culinary standards.

After some superb miniature loaves that were served, in a most commendable manner, with both salted and unsalted butter, I tried a pressed ham hock terrine with cheddar cheese clafoutis and piccalilli. It was delicious and my companion’s lightly smoked cod with Parmesan, liquid tomato and anchovies was beautifully presented.

To continue, I found the sticky braised beef cheek with parsley and flavours of burgundy melted in the mouth to be a dish that was phenomenally enjoyable. My companion opted for hake with tomato, lentils, carrot puree and camelised onion and was equally pleased.

To conclude, we shared a piece of carrot cake that we found a little dry before moving off menu to try a selection of British cheeses. The waitress explained that since they were coming from the fridge, we’d have to wait a short period and this show of initiative was typical of the competent level of service offered by the Thirty Six team.

The lunch menu at Thirty Six is priced at £26 for 2 courses and most meaningfully £36 for 3 courses.

Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham at Dukes Hotel, . Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7491 4840. Website:

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Beatrice said...

Martini dei Duchi di rocce. Brillante.

Anonymous said...

I love this hotel but they should not have ruined the decoration by letting this designer loose on the premises. They should leave the character be.

David Swift said...

As a fan of The Samling, I'd definitely like to try Nigel's food. Will give it a go asap.