Nestled right in the heart of the very historic district of St James’s, DUKE London is a haven of curated luxury and one of the last remaining bastions of great British hospitality. Founded in 1908, the hotel oozes peace and quiet. It’s close to the gentlemen’s shops of Jermyn Street like Lock + Co. the hatters and Berry Bros. the vintners, as well as Fortnum and Mason’s and London’s theatreland.
It’s tucked away down a quiet cobblestone cul-de-sac yards from St. James’s Palace, built by King Henry 8th, from Clarence House, once the London residence of King Charles, and from Spencer House the former London home of Princess Diana’s family. It’s a prestigious boutique-like hotel (being part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group) and it looks very grand from the outside as it welcomed me in to have a special experience within. It comprises two beautiful redbrick former mansions and its façade has the Union Jack flying and flowers cascading from their window boxes. Outside there’s the hotel’s own little square resembling a courtyard with a statue of a dachshund, beside a quaint bench on which to rest and a tradesman’s bicycle bedecked with flowers.
Inside the motif of a dachshund, the hunting dog of many a duke is continued with teddy bears and one modeled on the foyer table. The dark-wooden lobby has an old-fashioned feel with a faithful portrait of the late Queen, a grandfather clock, oil paintings, and stone steps. I loved the authentic wooden pigeon-holes hanging the room keys that still come in metal. The vibe is discrete and not showy or full of delivered shopping bags. Everywhere there are hints of authentic tradition.
A ride in the charming wood-paneled lift (with its bench for those preferring to sit) and a walk along the corridor past green and gold wallpaper took me to one of the ninety rooms (whose nightly rates start from £425 inclusive of tax and breakfast). Lord Nelson’s suite charmingly is room number 111 from the hypocryphal notion that Admiral Nelson had one eye, one arm, and one leg. My room was spacious with sleek armchairs, a writing desk, and a king-size bed. The neutral décor was calming with pieces of dark, antique wood in keeping with the surrounding buildings. There were lovely textures such as the heavy drapes and pelmets and quilted velvet bedding. Refreshingly the TV doesn’t overtake the room. Who doesn’t love a chunky cotton bathrobe and a massive bath? My large bathroom was decked in obsidian marble and white paneling and toiletries from Noble Isle.
I loved knuckling down to a lovely dinner at GBR (the Great British Restaurant), the hotel’s all-day brasserie on the ground floor. It’s intimate and has a classic and contemporary design with neutral tones of greys and blues with marble tables and window-seat banquettes. and a continental, rather than British feel. The walls are decked with mirrors and classy framed black and white photographs of matinée idols. As the website declares the food is “simple dishes cooked brilliantly in true British style”. After my venison and black pudding scotch egg with whisky apple sauce and parsley root, I enjoyed the stone bass with winter truffle, celery root mash, and parsley to finish with Yorkshire rhubarb with Pavlova, rhubarb sorbet and ginger crumble. A quintessentially English dinner reinforced with Cropwell Bishop stilton with fig relish and malt bread.
I popped in on the legendary Duke Bar which is famed for its Martinis from the frequent visits paid by James Bond author Ian Fleming. Indeed it’s this bar that’s said to be the inspiration for the classic line “shaken, not stirred”. It’s a cute bar and all very lounge-like with its paneling and adorned with seats with velvet trimmings and different-sized paintings including portraits of former Duke to give it the feel of a drinking den: small and clubbable. I particularly loved the old-fashioned cigar cabinet with its humidor.
I retired to the Drawing Room which felt fresh and new and very snug with its teal-colored furnishing, fireplace, and country house pictures. It overlooks a courtyard incorporating the Cognac and Cigar Garden. I should have come earlier to savor that particular English afternoon tea that they do so well. And in the summer I shall take them up on the special Duke London picnic, in Green Park and St James’s Park, filled with a hamper of indulgencies, along with the rug and cutlery brought by a butler. Quintessentially English in the very heart of the capital.