It’s a surprise, especially considering that at £80 for two you’re entitled to Hawksmoor and you’ve been given Sainsbury’s Basic, and the question really is, do you want to give a charitable donation of £75 to help a restaurant limp on for a bit longer?
The Stafford is a hotel in Mayfair that is known for it’s American Bar and, to a much lesser extent, its sunny courtyard outpost where it is possible to have both a drink and a seat in the sunshine at 6.30pm on the nine days when that’s a relevant combination. It’s not known for its food, but it has recently revamped its outer bar area into a restaurant called The Game Bird, which has a very noble philosophy of “supporting local artisans including award-winning family owned farms.” So far so good, except for the slight whiff of disappointment which came from the plethora of tables still available for dinner on a Saturday, by any standard prime restaurant time, mere hours in advance.
Hotel restaurants can be tricky and work best if they look and feel like a self-contained space: a restaurant that happens to be located within a hotel, a destination in itself, rather than an empty corner that serves food in order to try and maximise profits per square foot. The Game Bird is firmly in the latter category and because it’s a section of a much larger lounge area, it needs a couple of hundred people in it to create any semblance of atmosphere. Needless to say it didn’t even have a tenth of the customers it needed to elevate it from waiting-area-where-you-can-eat to restaurant, so I’m confident saying that it’s not going to be a destination for anyone other than the people sleeping upstairs.
The food started off well: a quinelle of chicken and duck liver parfait which was rich and delicate, creamy and light. Unfortunately, it soon became cloying because the accompanying pear chutney and thumb-sized slice of soggy brioche couldn’t perforate or diffuse the bilious balloon of sweetness that was rising in my throat. What it needed was a couple of slices of proper hearty toasted brioche, or French toast, or something fruity and acidic because without a considered accompaniment, even the nicest liver parfait collapses into warm offal ice cream.
We had the côte de boeuf for two for main course, with fluffy Yorkshires, beef-dripping potatoes and Bordelaise sauce. The rib was tender, it dissolved in your juices with two chews, but biting down on it, pummelling it around in your mouth, the taste, if I can call it “taste” without making it sound like an active rather than passive experience, can only be described as light brown. It’s a surprise, especially considering that at £80 for two you’re entitled to Hawksmoor and you’ve been given Sainsbury’s Basic, and the question really is, do you want to give a charitable donation of £75 to help a restaurant limp on for a bit longer?
Somewhere that does not need a charitable donation (although I cannot fathom how) is La Pol Au Pot, a French bistrot in Belgravia, which has been dishing out its abominable fare for sixty odd years. The tone is set as soon as you walk in to what is really a large shed, complete with massive hanging baskets full of dried flowers left over from the 60s, when they were probably fresh, and, once seated, the waitress has to use a special instrument to fish the previous incumbent’s leftovers out of the cracks in the table. It was the sort of food you would send back in a school canteen, insipid, brown, lumpy, but priced with more reference to the address than the quality of ingredients or the skill with which they were commingled. And it was in this shed that I encountered terrine of foie gras for £14.95, which turned out to be a slab of potted chicken. A braver person would have mentioned the fraud to the waiter, but the Maitre D’ had the air of somebody who had a silencer in their immediate possession, so I swallowed my potted chicken in silence and hoped the hanging baskets would hold for another hour under the not inconsiderable weight of sixty years of dust. The fact that it has been solvent for so long is surely a testament to the blind, tongue-less masochists of Belgravia, who obviously abound in greater numbers than first thought, and should really pop into The Game Bird.
Average for three courses for two people £120 (not including wine).
The Game Bird, The Stafford London, 16-18 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NJ