Back To Front & Brilliant: Why The Stafford Is One Of London’s Best Hotels

As any dad joke aficionado will attest, the old ones are always the best. London is awash with brand new mega hotels. In the last few months the OWO and Peninsular have sprung up, and there’s no shortage of crane towers littering the capital’s skyline, many of them heralding highrise hotel openings to come. But sometimes you crave a bit of old fashioned magic. Which is why I so wanted to review The Stafford, one of London’s oldest hotels (not to mention its Game Bird restaurant). To remind myself how things really should be done, and why the old ones really are always the best.

A little unusually, the front of The Stafford is, seemingly, at the back. Enter through the courtyard, which opens onto busy St James Street and you’re in the bar and restaurant. Or slip round the back (um, front) via St James’s Place and there’s the main reception and staircase. I did neither, arriving through the narrow three-foot wide tunnel that connects the hotel and Green Park. It’s used by locals and nearby office workers and is one of the best London shortcuts to memorise, taking you from the openness of the royal park to the very front of The Stafford, via 20 seconds of claustrophobic blackness.

The Stafford Hotel Review: Bedroom (not actually my bedroom, they don't have a picture online of it. But really similiar...)

Walk in, greeted by doormen, and there is a feeling of grandness, but scaled down. Unsurprising, given this is often touted as the most expensive price-per-square-foot real estate market in the world. So I was a rather impressed as I was shown the size of my first-floor Main House Master Suite. A large sitting room, connecting to a reasonably sized bedroom and an ensuite bath/shower/loo (of which more to come. Much more…).

I was a rather impressed as I was shown the size of my first-floor Main House Master Suite…

The woodwork throughout was that dark ruddy mahogany that was popular in the 1990s. There were oil paintings depicting the hotel during the second world war on the walls, which were surprisingly cheery. But the wood threw me a little. While the craftsmanship was undeniable, it isn’t a particularly fashionable choice. Come to think of it, the style reminded me of high-end hotels I’ve visited in America. Which suddenly makes sense… Every other voice I heard on my visit was American. A quirk of The Stafford seems to be that Americans, businessmen and tourists alike, flock to The Stafford for a slice of something English. And here I was enjoying its American-ness! In reality, its strength is that it’s the best of both, plus it’s part of the hotel’s heritage.

After a long and thoroughly relaxing bath, I headed down to the American Bar (see!). It’s one of London’s best bars and it’s brimming with well ordered bric-a-brac sharing the bond between the UK and North America. During the war The Stafford was a club for American and Canadian officers, and the ties remain. Literally, neckties, flags and baseball caps hang from the ceiling.

There was a muffled uproar a few years back when they redesigned the bar, but the tidy up is, in my opinion, strong and gives a contemporary feel to the place without throwing out the essence of the bar. One key consistency that remains is the brilliance of the cocktails.

Brimming with well ordered bric-a-brac…

My order, a gin and Lillet rosé cocktail with creme de peche, rosé wine and zalloti blossom was one of the best drinks I’ve ever tasted. The menu was a little pricey (that one was £21) but genuinely worth it.

The bar makes for excellent people-watching too. In a previous life I’d come here and meet with a retired SIS officer who, after a couple of (again excellent) G&Ts would regale you with top-level Boys’ Own war stories, stopping occasionally to greet other spies or overseas dignitaries. On any given day there’s a smattering of captains of industry, military folk, tourists and you in there. It’s dark and intimate, lending itself to secret sharing and deal making. All the better when it’s sealed with a meal. Which takes us to The Game Bird.

The Game Bird Review: The American Bar
The Game Bird Review: Restaurant...

No review of The Stafford would be complete without raving about The Game Bird. Right in the heart of the hotel, the restaurant is a carnivore’s playground. One of London’s best game restaurants, it is close to perfection. Beautiful, rather small but very elegant. The menu is the work of Head Chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen (whose Michelin Star for The Northcote, ‘oop north’ is well deserved) and Executive Chef Jozef Rogulski. And it’s one of my absolute favourites.

It’s one of my absolute favourites…

Veering away from the Exmoor caviar served with hot English crumpet (it’s good to leave something for the deep-pocketed American guests) I instead opted for coronation chicken to start followed by duck pie. Both were delectable. The chicken is nothing like the garish canary yellow paste’n’chunks beloved by school cafeterias the nation over. Instead picture a succulent slice of chicken in rich curry with a scattering of mango and almonds. I’m not doing it justice, but it’s fabulous.

The duck pie, likewise, was sublime. From the ‘Hoof, Feather and Field’ section of the menu (there’s also a ‘River and Sea’ part, ‘Smoked and Cured’ and finally ‘Vegetables and Leaves’ – which we obviously left well alone), the pie is packed with duck breast along with stuffing, Prosciutto di Parma, mushrooms and comes with gravy and (drum roll, because they were great) triple cooked chips.

The food is simple and tasty. Not fancy, fussy food, just straight-up great grub. Not that there isn’t the occasional flash of drama. If you order the chicken Kiev (or Kyiv as we’ve been calling it for the last couple years) you must don a blacksmith-style apron for your initial slice to save your shirt from jets of boiling juices.

Not fancy, fussy food, just straight-up great grub…

A nightcap back in the American Bar and it was off to bed. My room overlooked the passage to Green Park, which is closed in the evenings, and the mansion block where Rupert Murdoch is said to have an apartment. Which means that, despite being in central London, there’s zero on-street noise. All you can hear is your partner snoring away in the soft king sized bed and the occasional hum of the loo. Say what?

The loo. It deserves a paragraph. The marble bathroom’s piece de resistance is the Japanese-style loo. The automated sort that does everything for you. There are few stranger sensations than having yourself spruced up by a robot. But if this is where AI’s going, then I’m all in. You’re responsible for doing your business, then R2D2 does the rest, courtesy of a probe that emerges from the inside rim of the commode. Amazing technology! And until Elon Musk can develop a brain-chip to let us do this all by ourselves, it really is the future. All I would say, nevertheless, was that it was rather a startling discovery at 2am in the dark…

The Stafford Review: Outsidey Bit...

Review nearly over, I padded back down to The Stafford’s dining room for breakfast. Which was just as hearty as you’d hope, with all Full English heroes. Sausages, hash browns, eggs, mushrooms, black pudding, bacon and beans.

Topped back up to over-full, I returned to my room, put in a couple hours work until the very civilised midday standard check-out time. Leaving through the back (the other back) door I strolled to window shop my way down Jermyn Street while letting the last 24 hours percolate.

The breakfast was just as hearty as you’d hope and expect…

It’s impossible to leave without thinking The Stafford is a great little hotel. Top points for luxury, there’s everything you’d hope for in a bijou five star. From the excellent location to wonderful rooms and great staff. Plus the American twang is a fun, whichever side of the Atlantic you’re based on.

But the food and drink make it. The old ones might always be the best, but I don’t think that’s why The Stafford gets such a great review. The combination of a stunning bar and a knock-out restaurant take the hotel to another level. Oh, that and the loo.

Find it: 16-18 St James’s Place, St James’s, SW1A 1NJ
Click it: www.thestaffordlondon.com
Splash it: Rooms start at around £500 per night, suites from around £1,000
‘Gram it: @thestaffordlondon

If you enjoyed our review of The Stafford Hotel (and The Game Bird) then you’re in luck. You can find every review we’ve ever written here, plus if you’re looking to find out more about The Game Bird then here are our favourite game restaurants…

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